A blistering third quarter helped Central set up a decisive 62-53 win as the team from the Capital went on to successfully defend their Beko Netball League title in Auckland today.
Trailing through the first half, Central turned the screws to outplay the No 1 seeds with a rampant third quarter which they won by 15 goals to set up the eventual win.
Central have featured in all three Beko finals, finishing runners-up in the first year while winning the following two. With a win apiece during the just-completed regular season, Waikato-BOP had no answer to Central’s withering second half performance in the 2018 edition of the Grand Final.
In a standout individual performance, Central shooter Jermaine Howard-Vallance converted 49 shots from 55 attempts while influential midcourter Maddy Gordon scooped the MVP award.
``This is just amazing,’’ an excited Gordon said afterwards. ``We’re a young group of girls, we knew it was going to be a big challenge but we all just had faith in each other and it was an awesome effort.
``We were here for a reason and we just had to throw everything at it. It wasn’t the best start but it was so good to see all the girls just get stuck in.’’
A more settled Waikato-BOP held the edge through the first quarter with slick through-court play and strong finishing from goal shoot Kelsey McPhee, up against her old team.
Waikato-BOP were well-supported by its in-circle defensive duo Jenna O’Sullivan and Hannah Ridling who got their hands on numerous turnover ball early on while disrupting Central’s shooting opportunities.
Central squandered too much ball, their transitional play often breaking down but when it reached the circle Howard-Vallance was a reliable finisher under the hoop.
Having eight more attempts at goal helped Waikato-BOP take a 15-11 lead into the first break.
The defending champions came out with more purpose on the resumption, Central finding their flow through court as they cut into the deficit. Howard-Vallance and goal attack Braxton Te Riini received a better supply of ball to help Central hit the lead late in the quarter before a long bomb from McPhee on the buzzer handed Waikato-BOP a 27-26 lead at the main break.
Making multiple changes, which included Renee Savai’inae moving to wing defence, impressive midcourter Gordon going from wing defence to centre and the introduction of 16-year-old schoolgirl goalkeeper Paris Lokotui coincided with a big momentum shift in Central’s favour.
Showing more intensity across all facets, Central produced an outstanding third quarter as things began to unravel for Waikato-BOP. The loss of playmaking wing attack Mila Reuelu-Buchanan did not hinder Central’s grip on proceedings.
Waikato-BOP made several changes in a bid to stem the flow but it was all Central, who regularly pressed their opponents into error through big defensive pressure while producing plenty of flow and fluency on attack.
Gordon was a key contributor in the midcourt for Central while the ice-cool Howard-Vallance was machine-like under the hoop.
In punishing mood, an eight-goal unanswered streak pushed Central into a healthy 47-33 lead at the last break after producing a telling 21-6 third stanza.