The Mainland Pouākai have edged past the Whai 71-68 in Tauranga to secure the third spot on the ladder and a date with the Tokomanawa Queens in the semi-finals.
The Whai came out hot with an 11-2 run in the first four minutes of the game. Esra McGoldrick was making an impact on both ends of the floor in the first quarter - scoring eight points for the Whai.
The Pouākai would respond to close the gap, though, led by import Jailin Cherry with 10 points. She would help cut the deficit to two points heading into the second quarter, with Mainland shooting a tidy 9-of-16 from the field.
They managed to keep that momentum going in the second, outscoring the Whai 24-11 to take a 43-32 lead into the half. Cherry had 16 points and was essentially getting whatever she wanted on offence. She was finishing with the left, off the glass, and in the midrange in an impressive showing.
As a team, Mainland shot 18-of-33 from the floor and 4-of-8 from distance in the first half. They held the Whai to 12-of-33 shooting and 2-of-11 from three. The key to success for the Whai is their outside shooting and knocking down perimeter shots with consistency. That opens up the lanes for the likes of Kyra Lambert to drive, and also for post options Nikki Greene and Sharne Robati.
Their 3-point shooting has taken a dip in recent weeks and it's been the main reason for their slide, so fine tuning that area of their game will be the key to success moving forward.
Lambert had nine points in the first half for the Whai, and after scoring eight in the first quarter Esra McGoldrick was held scoreless in the second.
The Whai turned it around in the third quarter to outscore the Pouākai 24-13 and tie it up at 56 with 10 minutes to play. Kendell Heremaia dropped three 3-pointers in the quarter and Kyra Lambert worked her way up to 15 points to lead the Whai resurgence.
Pouākai centre Tessa Boagni took an elbow from Nikki Greene early in the third quarter and would leave the game to get tended to. The play resulted in an unsportsmanlike foul on Greene, her fourth personal foul, meaning she had to go to the bench with just one foul in hand. Boagni would later return to the game in the fourth quarter.
With Greene sidelined, it enabled the Whai to play small and turn up the pace on offence and that's when players like Heremaia benefitted with open looks on the arc.
After losing Boagni earlier in the quarter, just minutes later the Pouākai also lost Jailin Cherry to what appeared to be an ankle injury. She looked to be in considerable pain and had to be helped off - Cherry would not return to the game.
The Whai carried their run over to the fourth with an 8-2 burst in the first few minutes, but the Pouākai hit back with a back breaking 13-0 run to put themselves in front for good. Tessa Boagni's return to the game was crucial, as she finished with 15 points and nine rebounds for Mainland in their three point win.
Trinity Baptiste scored an economical 21 points on 9-of-14 shooting, and Jailin Cherry had 18 points on 9-of-16 shooting from the field before she had to exit the game. Cherry easily had her best outing in this one and it's a shame it was cut short. Her health will be key for the Pouākai's Final 4 run, but there's still a lot of firepower in the likes of Boagni, Baptiste and Whalen to be mindful of too.
The Pouākai shot just 4-of-13 from distance but it was their defence on the Whai that was the real difference - restricting them to a 38% clip from the field and 7-of-27 from three. The Whai threatened in the third when their perimeter game was flowing, but outside of that it was tough sledding for their shooting tonight.
Kyra Lambert finished with a team-high 19 points and Kendell Heremaia was impressive with 17 points on 5-of-9 from three off the bench. The Whai host the Southern Hoiho on Sunday in their final game of the regular season. The Hoiho might come in with one win, but they'll be boosted by the inclusion of Tall Fern Jillian Harmon and they'll be motivated to finish the season with a bang.
The win secures the Pouākai the third spot and they'll face the Tokomanawa Queens in the semi-finals next week, a team they've beaten twice this season. The Whai, regardless of their result against the Hoiho, will have to go through the top seeded Northern Kāhu in the other semi-final.
SCORE: Whai 68, Pouākai 71
Whai: Lambert 19 PTS, 9 REB, 8 AST, 2 STL | Heremaia 17 PTS, 5-9 3PT | McGoldrick 12 PTS | Robati 11 PTS
Pouākai: Baptiste 21 PTS | Cherry 18 PTS | Boagni 15 PTS, 8 REB | Whalen 12 PTS, 9 REB
Full box score HERE.
Stuff MVP Votes
Jailin Cherry (Pouākai) - 8 votes
Trinity Baptiste (Pouākai) - 8 votes
Kyra Lambert (Whai) - 8 votes
Tessa Boagni (Pouākai) - 4 votes
Kendell Heremaia (Whai) - 2 votes
Whai - Aug 21 vs. Southern Hoiho
Pouākai – Aug 21 @ Northern Kāhu
Round 7 Tauihi Schedule