Late Sunbirds surge sees off game Aloes

Siphosethu Kilani of the Aloes wards off a challenge by Sanele Buthelezi of the Sunbirds during the Brutal Fruit Netball Premier League match at Rembrandt Hall yesterday.
Siphosethu Kilani of the Aloes wards off a challenge by Sanele Buthelezi of the Sunbirds during the Brutal Fruit Netball Premier League match at Rembrandt Hall yesterday.
Image: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

It was mission accomplished for the Mpumalanga Sunbirds after their victory over the Eastern Cape Aloes at the University of Pretoria's Rembrandt Hall guaranteed they will finish the Brutal Fruit Netball Premier League in a higher position than last year.

Having finished in ninth spot in 2017, the Sunbirds were determined to earn their passage through to the seventh-place showdown with victory in the first of the play-off matches yesterday.

True to pre-match predictions, after these teams played to a 38-38 draw the last time they met, it was another tight affair.

The fourth quarter was all about the Sunbirds as they clawed their way back into contention with more accurate passing and shooting, while their defence ensured there was a period of almost five minutes when the Aloes did not score at all.

The experience and skill of the injured Aloes centre, Athenkosi Mbengashe was sorely felt at that point as the Sunbirds surged to a 39-35 win.

"That last quarter was the pull-through for everybody," said a relieved Sunbirds coach Marlie Nel. "We managed to capitalise on small mistakes the Aloes made, some missed catches, so I actually felt for them. But luckily my players could convert that and that helped a lot."

Aloes coach Des Neville added: "It feels like deja vu because that's what happened in our first game against them. It just seems we can't keep it together right until the end."

The Aloes will now play the Northern Cape Diamonds in a battle to avoid finishing in last place.

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