It was mission accomplished for the EP Aloes after overpowering the Limpopo Baobabs 60-23 in their final playoff game to secure seventh spot in the Brutal Fruit Netball Premier League at Durban’s Olive Convention Centre on Sunday.
Still struggling without their star shooter, Rahab Ngobeni, who missed this weekend’s matches, the Baobabs were simply outplayed by a strong Aloes side intent on winning by as big a margin as possible. That they did, with a massive cheer from the team bench when the 60th goal sailed through the net just seconds before the final whistle.
Not only were the shooters on target but the defence did a phenomenal job of preventing the Baobabs from getting the ball into the circle. The Limpopo team could only manage to score three goals in the third quarter and four in the fourth and Aloes reserve goalkeeper Zukelwa Cwaba was eventually named the player of the match.
“I’m really pleased with the result,” said a thrilled Aloes coach, Des Neville, afterwards. “We were trying to push for a bit of a bigger score margin than we’ve had until now.”
Speaking about securing seventh spot in the competition, Neville added: “We obviously came here to maintain our position after the round robin matches so I’m very happy we’ve done that.
“It’s unfortunate you don’t have the opportunity to play for anything higher than that but that’s the way the structure is. We’ll definitely look at next year to try and get into the top group and get into the playoffs.”
While losing by a 37-goal margin is never fun, both Baobabs coach and captain praised their team’s attitude.
“The girls put in a fight this weekend. I’m happy that some of the commentators were saying that the girls were fighting from the first whistle to the last whistle,” said coach Cecilia Molokwane, pointing out that more training time is needed if the team are to become real contenders.
“For the players it was great. Coming in from last weekend in Johannesburg – building and picking each other up. This week was really a week for us to improve and I’m really happy as a captain that we were able to pick each other up,” added captain Vasta Nchefu.
The other playoff game of the day was a much tighter one with the Mpumalanga Sunbirds emerging as 42-37 winners over the Northern Cape Diamonds to secure eighth spot.
While the Sunbirds notched up a four-goal lead in the first quarter, a sensational second quarter from the Diamonds saw them closing that gap and then taking the lead early in the third quarter. But the Sunbirds kept the pressure on and, with memories of their one-goal defeat to the same opposition earlier in the season still fresh, they pushed on to edge ahead and eventually take the win, and eighth place overall – the highest ever finish for the Mpumalanga team.
Ecstatic Sunbirds captain Thulisile Nhleko explained: “We wanted to win. Our coach said we must fight to win this game so we couldn’t let the Diamonds win against us again.
“We wanted to finish in seventh but eight is better than nine – last year we finished ninth.”
Sunbirds coach Jenne-Lee Delport added: “I didn’t sleep last night. I was analysing this match from start to finish. I sent the team a video clip of the previous match against the Diamonds when we lost in the dying minutes and I told them ‘Listen girls, one of the teams is going to feel that way today and it won’t be us!’ I think the players were laughing about that loss and they just managed to pull it through.
“This is my last match as Sunbirds coach so I think the players wanted to give me back what I’ve given to the Sunbirds for the past two years. I think it was about who wanted to win the most.”
Diamonds captain Ninelle Jordaan agreed: “I think we kind of stood back for them – I don’t know why. I think they fought a bit harder than us.
“We were hoping to end a bit higher so it’s disappointing but now we’ll go back and work hard.”
Coach Elsje van der Merwe added: “I think we made crucial mistakes at crucial times. I think we were a bit unnerved by the physical game the Sunbirds play – we’re not used to that and we’re not playing that back so I think that was the problem today.”
Next weekend, Brutal Fruit Netball Premier League action will return to Durban for the semifinals and final, taking place at the Olive Convention Centre on Friday, 27 May and Saturday, 28 May.