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NSL Finals: Sneakers Stingrays and Magic Marlins

Match 1: 5/6th playoff. Misson Mannas 56-50 M1 Sunfish (HT 33-23)

For many, this was an un-expected 5th/6th playoff as the reigning Champions Mission Mannas were aiming to retain their crown. It was not to be and for 2015 they have to settle for 5th position after a 56-50 victory against the 21&U side M1 Sunfish.

Sunfish started strongly and made it hard for Mannas to find space or settle into a rhythm. They got the slight edge though in the opening half and too a 33-23 advantage to the break.

Mannas were without key defenders Olivia Flanagan or Chen Li Li (both recovering from injury) but Nurul Baizura and Saadiah Khamis stepped into the roles and worked well together. M1 Sunfish were not going to stop fighting though and stepped up a gear in the third quarter to take it (9-16) and close the gap to just three points (42-39) with 15 minutes to play.

Sunfish midcourt players Kimberly Lim (WA) and Aqilah Afiqah (WD) worked tirelessly to create turnover and make for a thrilling final period with the supporters screaming both sides on and interceptions happening all over the court. Mannas kept their lead though and rounded off the match with a 14-11 quarter score for their 5th place finish this season.

Co-Captain for M1 Sunfish, Aqilah Afiqah said, “It was a tough game which we expected when you come up against the reigning champions but I think we improved with each quarter and gave them a good game. Compared to our first game of the season we have continued to improve as our scores show. We have given some of the teams a real shock! It’s been a good season for us to work hard and better ourselves as we are preparing for the Asian Youth Championships in December.”

Mannas Co-Captain, Nurul Baizura could also take the positives from the result saying, “We showed great progression throughout the season and our players adapted very well to having to play out of positions and quite a new and young team trying to gel together. As captain, it was important for me to lead by example and do what the team needed me to do and keep a calm head as I lead better when in that state. Hilda [Binang of Botswana] really added to our overall attacking edge and it was great to have her in our team this year.”

Match 2: Semi-Final 1. Tiger Sharks 50-54 Sneakers Stingrays (After Extra Time) (FT 43-43; HT 21-25)

The intensity was high from the first whistle of the first semi-final as both teams desperately wanted to make the NSL Grand Final tomorrow. Finishing second and third in the league respectively, it was always going to be a close encounter despite Sharks winning their group stage match 56-36.

Sneakers Stingrays have grown in confidence throughout the weeks and caused some upsets along the way. They got off to a flying start winning the first quarter (10-13) and the momentum continued to the half (11-12) for a narrow but important four-point advantage.

The tempo remained in the second half of yet more end-to-end action. The gaggle of Stingrays fans were almost as active as the players themselves, cheering every ball, as they managed to keep their nose in-front for yet another quarter (12-13), 33-38.

The tension was almost unbearable in the final period as Tigers clawed their way back into the match and with two minutes to go it was neck and neck, 42-42 and they couldn’t be separated by the final whistle blowing at 43-43.

It moved into extra time (7min each way) after a short break and after the first half it was 46-48 in Stingrays favour, both teams feeling the pressure and rushing their play at times. Sharks started to get frustrated and they were unable to convert their final few chances as Stingrays stayed focused and took the win 49-54 and earned their place in tomorrow’s final showdown.

Finding it hard to explain the loss, Sharks Vice Captain, Charmaine Soh said, “We are a good team, things just didn’t go our way today. We rushed at times as they forced us into playing at their pace. We really wanted it and before extra time we told everyone just to give it their best. We will do better tomorrow.”

On the opposite spectrum of emotions, Carmen Goh, Captain of Sneakers was overjoyed. She said, “Really exhausted but this is our first time in the final and after such a tough fight, the victory feels even sweeter. Our fighting spirit really showed how much we wanted it. We expected a tough fight given our previous result against them so we hit it hard from the start and gaining that lead really gave our team the morale boost to carry on.”

Match 3: Semi-Final 2. Magic Marlins 47-43 Blaze Dolphins (HT 20-23)

Table-topping Magic Marlins took on Blaze Dolphins in the second semi final with the game seeming much less frantic compared to the first semi that had just played out!

Both teams started steadily but it was Dolphins that had the upper hand and opening quarter lead (10-13) that kept them in front by four points at the break (20-24).

Dolphins captain Lin Qingyi maintained her unusual position of Centre – where we’ve seen her play most of this NSL campaign – and controlled the mid court, helping Chen Huifen and Tan Hui Yan get their eyes on goal. In their defensive line-up, international player Letang Mogolthwane teamed up well with Toh Wan Ling against Marlins shooting combination of Violet Oneile (Botswana) and Pamela Lieu.

Athletic off-the-ball movement and sharp passing from Marlins saw them take the third quarter (14-13) to trail by three points with everything to play for in the final 15. Then it was full steam ahead as they got into their groove and went in front for the first time in the match. They kept things that way to come from behind for a hard fought 47-43 victory and a match up against Stingrays tomorrow.

Marlins Captain Nur Liyana Noordin said, “We knew we just had to finish it and the win could be ours. Violet played exceptionally well for us today and that really helped and the defence were great too. We haven’t really performed to our best the last few weeks so we just kept it simple today and we will do the same tomorrow – its all about the basics.”

Lin Qingyi was disappointed not to make it to another grand final this year saying, “Marlins came back strongly in the fourth and they played better on the whole. We were a bit off our game today. The defence played well and made crucial turnovers but we couldn’t transit the ball down court and make it count.”

The Finals of the Netball Super League take place tomorrow at Toa Payoh Sports Hall. 3rd/4th Play-off: 1.00pm; Grand Final: 3pm; Prize Presentation: 4.30pm