Tokomaru Crafar Crouch are the 2019 Marlborough premier netball champions after beating Pelorus Edridge Contracting 58-53 at Stadium 2000 on Saturday afternoon.
The season’s decider was always going to be a tight affair, most pundits unable to confidently pick a winner. And so it turned out, with Pelorus creating the early pace, only to be run down in the third quarter as Toko held their nerve under extreme pressure.
While pocketing their second premier title in three years, Tokomaru dashed the dreams of a Pelorus side playing in the club’s first premier final, with high hopes of a first top-level crown.
Once the initial nerves had cleared the opening quarter was tight, the rivals going goal-for-goal until Pelorus managed a late run to head to the first break with a three-goal advantage, shooters Paige Lovell and Olivia Pinkerton sharing duties under the hoop and both performing at a high percentage.
Meanwhile, Toko were almost exclusively utilising lofty GS Haze Tepuia, the youngster putting up 14 of their 15 shots in the first quarter and going on to attempt 80 percent of his team’s shots throughout the final.
With both sides guilty of throwing away ball and giving up turnovers the second quarter was scrappy, with Pelorus once again finishing slightly stronger to add another goal to their lead, going into the major break 32-28 ahead.
The third period was critical, tilting the balance of the match in favour of the Picton crew. They started with an 8-4 run to level the scores then, with six minutes of the quarter remaining finally got their nose in front, a position they had not enjoyed since early in the first quarter.
From there they were never headed. With Pelorus’s shooting percentage falling, plus an inability to capitalise on turnovers created by willing defence, Toko pulled away, establishing a three-goal advantage entering the final quarter.
Try as they might, Pelorus were unable to string consecutive goals together and close the gap. As the noise from their faithful supporters in the crowd grew ever louder, Toko raised the intensity again and sealed the deal with the final two goals.
It would be hard to go past Tepuia as player of the match. His impact on the game was huge, an 86 percent shooting effort, plus his ability to reel in seemingly-wayward passes and grab rebounds making him extremely hard to mark.
However, the Pelorus defence of Courtney Taufa, Oriana Houra and Jordan Peipi must be applauded for their efforts in restricting the flow of possession to Tepuia and GA Gemma Hika, who was content to pass off to her shooting partner whenever the opportunity arose.
Toko’s often under-rated defence was also outstanding, Michaela Boaz, Naia Lawrence, Hannah Dickson, who wore the GD bib in the pivotal third quarter, and Brooke Horton were relentless and accurate.
In centre court the battle was tight, Toko’s twins Hana and Kayla Wilson maintaining an often telepathic link when under pressure, while Jenna Gilbert and Kelsie Fitzpatrick were creative and slick as they sought to bring Pelorus’s possession through court.
While it would be easy to suggest one bad quarter decided the outcome of the decider, it was more than that. Toko were able to win many of the small moments, the little battles within a war that decide the big games.
Toko coach Vanessa Hika said “it could have been anybody’s game”.
“They are such good opposition. Both teams fought all the way to the end … that’s just how finals should be.
“We talked at halftime about finishing our season properly, enjoying all the work we had put in, about composure and finding your heart.
“As the crowd started to pick up so did we … there was no panic towards the end.
“It was a really great day because there were two teams playing that maybe shouldn’t have been here and we had both fought so hard to get here. That’s just how the season was.”
Taufa, player/coach of the beaten side, said her team’s inconsistency was an issue. “If it wasn’t happening at one end it was working at the other and vice versa. Plus we chucked a lot of ball away and in the end that was what made the difference. We forced plenty of turnovers but just couldn’t convert them.”
“I’m so proud of our team though, as I said to them before the game, no matter what happens today we have made history for our club.
“There’s always next year.”
Premier final scores: Tokomaru 58 (Haze Tepuia 53/61, Gemma Hika 5/6) Pelorus 53 Paige Lovell 40/59, Olivia Pinkerton 13/18). Quarter scores (winning team first): 15-18, 13-14, 16-9, 14-12.