THE North West Flames shot to the top of the log in the Brutal Fruit Netball Premier League, with a hard-fought 44-36 win over the only other unbeaten team, the Southern Stings.
The match was fast and very physical – one of the Stings players, goal attack Nicole Taljaard, had to be stretchered off with a knee injury – but the Flames kept their cool and were always one step ahead.
The Stings started slowly, taking eight minutes before they scored their first goal.
However, they made good progress after that and were only four goals behind at the end of the first quarter. At halftime, the Flames were 22-19 ahead.
“The only difference between us was the goal averages,” said Flames’ coach Dorette Badenhorst.
Flames goal attack Renske Stoltz picked up her second player of the match award with a scintillating performance. Despite being one of the shortest players in the NPL, she was able to score from anywhere in the circle, appearing calm and confident as she shot from the edge of the circle.
“It helps when you have a tall player under the posts, because you know she can take it if you miss,” said Stoltz.
Badenhorst said they had prepared well for the match, knowing they were up against Proteas like Adele Niemand (goalkeeper) and Erin Burger (centre). Her young shooter, Siggie Burger, coped well with Niemand and Badenhorst said she was improving with every game.
Stings coach Anneli Lucas said she was very happy with her team’s performance, although she was not happy with the scoreline.
“We put Nadia Uys and Reme Dreyer (the Flames’ wing attack and centre) under a lot of pressure, and I agree with Dorette – the difference between the teams was goal averages,” she said.
“Our shooters missed four attempts before they got the ball in the net, and that always affects your confidence. But we had quite a few turnover balls and I am generally very happy.”
The earlier match, between two of the lower ranked teams, the Mpumalanga Sunbirds and the Northern Cape Diamonds turned out to be a thriller, with the Diamonds sneaking a 50-49-goal victory.
Both teams were desperate to win, after losing heavily to some of the stronger teams, and the players put everything they had into the match. After the first quarter, the Diamonds were 12-10 ahead. The Sunbirds came back strongly in the second quarter, outscoring the Diamonds by 14 goals to six, to lead 24-18 at halftime.
Towards the middle of the third quarter, the Diamonds caught up and then passed the Sunbirds, leading 35-34 at the break, and they never relinquished that lead, although the Sunbirds tried desperately to close the gap.
The battle between player of the match, Sunbirds goal shooter Palesa Mbukwana and Diamonds goalkeeper Christelle Ellis was a feature of the match, with neither able to dominate the other.
“I am very relieved to have won,” said Diamonds coach Elsje van der Merwe. “This was like a final for us. I had to make some changes to the team because of injury, but the girls showed character and a will to win. I was very proud of them.”
Sunbirds coach Jenne-Lee Delport was disconsolate.
“We needed to win this match, because we are outclassed by teams like the Flames and the Stings. It was stupid mistakes that cost us the match. We still have a lot of work to do,” said Delport.
Results (Heartfelt Arena, Pretoria):
o Gauteng Fireballs 39 Free State Crinums 47
o Eastern Cape Aloes 33 Gauteng Jaquars 61
o Mpumalanga Sunbirds 59 Kingdom Stars 29
o Limpopo Baobabs 21 Free State Crinums 69
o Gauteng Fireballs 59 Northern Cape Diamonds 31
o Mpumalanga Sunbirds 49 vs Northern Cape Diamonds 50
o North West Flames 44 vs Southern Stings 36