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The SPAR Smileys fought valiantly to draw their exhibition match against the male President’s Stars team at the Telkom Netball League (TNL) tournament at the Pretoria University Sports Centre on Friday.  The final score was 53-all.

The SPAR Smileys, made up of locally based members of the national training squad, had an uphill battle against a determined Stars side.  The men achieved some amazing intercepts, but so too did the SPAR Smileys.  Monique Reynecke was outstanding as goal defence and was deservedly named player of the match.

The Stars went into an early lead, but at the end of the first quarter, the teams were level on 12-all with Renske Stoltz scoring all 12 goals for the SPAR Smileys.  In the second quarter, the Stars went ahead by one goal, 27-26, but won the third quarter 15-13. The SPAR Smileys went into the lead early in the final quarter, and at one stage were five goals up.  But a couple of mistakes allowed the Stars back in.

The crowd got behind the women, and cheered every goal.  The SPAR Smileys won the quarter 14-9. SPAR Smileys coach Dorette Badenhorst was delighted with the result.

“The last time we played them, we lost by about 30 goals, so this was a huge improvement,” she said.

“The match provided them with the kind of play they will come up against when we play Jamaica at the World Cup.

“Renske showed how mentally strong she is – she battled against them last time we played, but she was so accurate tonight. I thought Izette Griesel had a very good game at wing defence – she is strong and succeeded in turning the ball several times,” said Badenhorst.

In the TNL itself, the North West Flames held off a determined onslaught from the Southern Cape Stings to win 54-50, after leading 29-22 at halftime in the only first division match of the day.

The teams exchanged goals for much of the first quarter before the Flames got a slight edge, winning the quarter by 15 goals to 13.  In the second quarter, they were dominant, with goalshooter Chante Louw and goal attack Elsunet du Plessis very much on song.  The Stings made some basic errors and the Flames won the quarter 14-9, to lead 29-22 at halftime.  The second quarter was to prove crucial to their eventual victory.

In the third quarter, Stings coach Annelie Lucas brought on the big guns, replacing the young goalshooter Claudia Jarrard with the more experienced Nicole Taljaard, who won player of the match in her last outing.  They began to claw themselves back into the match and won the quarter 14-12. (41-36)

But it was the final quarter that saw both sides playing their hearts out.  With just under four minutes to go, the Stings scored five consecutive goals, to draw level on 49-49 and it appeared they were going to snatch a last minute victory.  But the Flames replied with their own flurry of goals and recorded their first win over one of the major teams.

“I am very relieved – that last quarter was very stressful,” said Flames coach Elsje Jordaan.

“We have talked about building a lead and keeping it.  And I am very pleased that they didn’t give in to the pressure in the final minutes, but hung in there for the victory.  This will do a lot for their confidence going forward.”

Lucas said it was better to lose at this stage than later in the tournament. 

“I thought we brought it back nicely in the second half,” she said.

“We always play to win but I changed some of my combinations for this match.  I have given all my players a run so that they are not overwhelmed when it comes to the play-offs,” said Lucas.

The Mpumalanga Sunbirds scored a resounding 62-41 victory over the Northern Cape Diamonds, after leading 31-15 at halftime. It was one-way traffic for most of the match.  By the end of the first quarter, the Sunbirds were 18-six ahead, giving them a comfortable cushion for the rest of the game.

The Diamonds tried hard and fought valiantly but were just unable to make up the difference.  They were a bit better in the second quarter, which the Sunbirds won 13-9. The Sunbirds won the third quarter 15-10, but they took their foot off the gas in the final round, and the Diamonds shared it 16-all. The Kingdom Stars won a close encounter with the Limpopo Baobabs, 58-56, after leading 33-27 at halftime.

The Baobabs got off to a slow start and were trailing 18-12 after the first quarter. Their slow start cost them the match – they shared the second and final quarters, 15-15 and 14-14, and won the third quarter 15-11. With five minutes to go, the Baobabs, who had fought like tigers from the start of the second quarter, finally drew level (53-53) and then went ahead. For the next couple of minutes, goals went according to centre pass.

A brilliant intercept by Baobabs goal attack Rumandi Potgieter appeared to give the Limpopo team a chance to put some space between them and the Stars, but it all came to nothing because of an error in the centre court. The Stars scored two consecutive goals and they managed to keep ahead of the Baobabs until the final whistle went.

“It was a great team effort,” said Baobabs coach Anna Ledwaba.

“I told them to play their own game and to make the most of the Stars’ mistakes.  I am very proud of the team,” she said.

“I think we were trying to do things too fast and making unforced errors,” said Stars coach Bonsiwe Thabethe.

“We battled against their goalshooter, Grace Lechaba, and we need to improve our defence in the circle.  I was quite nervous in the last few moments of the match,” said Thabethe.