The battle for top spot in the second division at the Telkom Netball League looks to be going right down to the final game. The KwaZulu-Natal Kingdom Stars and the Eastern Cape Aloes, who drew their first clash, will face each other again tomorrow to determine who will finish top of the pile. The winner of that match will earn the right to take on the bottom-placed team in the first division in a promotion-relegation battle next weekend.

That’s after both the Stars and Aloes remained unbeaten by wrapping up wins in their respective matches at the University of Pretoria’s Rembrandt Hall on Saturday.

The Aloes had the tougher task of the day, taking on the Mpumalanga Sunbirds, who they beat by seven goals in their previous meeting, but who have been one of the most-improved sides. The Eastern Cape team took an early lead and reached the first break five goals up. But the start of the second saw the Sunbirds scoring four goals to the Aloes’ one and coach Lana Krige was quick to call a strategic time-out to get things back on track. The pep-talk did the trick and the Aloes were able to reach half time 22-16 up.

The Mpumalanga team came back at them hard in the third, however, levelling the scores at 27-all. They scored 12 goals to the Aloes’ eight during that period but once again Krige focussed her side for the final quarter, where they were able to exert some more dominance, opening the gap to eight, but eventually finishing the tight contest three goals ahead.

“It was great to have a game like this. It’s good competition, it’s good play and it’s good umpiring,” said a relieved Krige afterwards. Asked about her effective team talks, the coach explained: “The first one was: ‘You pull yourselves together now and start playing proper netball.’ And we just changed the running lines of our wing attack and goal attack, and one instruction can make all the difference. The last one was just a prayer.”

Of some concern will be the injury to goal attack Noluvuyo Nodludlume’s knee. “It’s the meniscus. I’ll have to speak to my bio. We couldn’t put her back on court now, but I’m hoping she’ll be ok to play tomorrow,” said Krige 

Earlier, it had been a far more comfortable victory for the Stars, who claimed a 68-46 win over the bottom-of-the-log Northern Cape Diamonds, who are yet to win a match.

The first quarter was a fairly close one, with the Stars reaching the break just two goals ahead on 15-13. But the second period was a very different one. Five minutes in, the Diamonds were yet to score, and the speedy KZN side had slotted in nine unanswered goals. They reached half time 38-23 up and then continued to build on that, with Coach Bonisiwe Thabethe experimenting with captain Precious Mthembu at centre for the final quarter instead of in her usual position of wing defence.

“We didn’t start very well. It was a bit shaky. I think the Diamonds put up a good fight,” said Mthembu afterwards. “They’ve been improving game by game. But I think after that first quarter we just went back to the drawing board and went back to basics. It was a good win for us and we’re looking forward to the match against the Aloes.”

Speaking about Sunday’s crucial showdown, Mthembu added: “I think it’s going to be about which team has prepared the most and I seriously think we’ve prepared from every angle. We went back home and trained really hard this week. Hopefully the best team will win on Sunday.”

Meanwhile, in first division action, the Western Cape Southern Stings made sure the Gauteng Golden Fireballs remained winless at the tournament so far, beating them 71-36. That means the Gauteng side, who were simply outgunned in all aspects of the game, will have to defeat either the Stars or Aloes next weekend to avoid relegation.

It was a great confidence boost for the Stings heading into the playoffs, after they left Pretoria winless in three matches last weekend and drew a tough encounter with the North West Flames on Friday.

“It felt so much more comfortable on court generally, being in front by 10 goals after the first quarter so it was great, much better than last night,” said Stings captain Abeline Olivier, whose side were already 36-18 up by half time.

“I was happy that we stepped up and started from the first minute. We didn’t have to play catch-up netball, we didn’t struggle. It just gelled from the start and there was no weak link on court,” she added of the 35-goal drubbing, which equals the largest winning margin of the league teams so far.

“It feels great, especially going into a semi-final. I know the girls are ready. This is definitely a confidence boost, which I think we needed after last weekend where we didn’t do so well. As a team we stepped up, came back fighting and we’re showing the country how good we are.”

Telkom Netball League

Results – 1 June 2019 – Round 4

Division 1

Western Cape Southern Stings beat Gauteng Golden Fireballs 71-36

Division 2

KwaZulu-Natal Kingdom Stars beat Northern Cape Diamonds 68-46

Eastern Cape Aloes beat Mpumalanga Sunbirds 40-37

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