Steel dig deep to withstand last quarter comeback

SOUTHERN Steel hung on for dear life against a rampaging Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic side (56-54). It was an improved effort from the Magic, who had gone down by 15 goals last round but had a point to prove in this clash.

The Steel picked up where they left off with Grace Namana slotting the first three goals of the game and ultimately setting the tone. The Magic managed to get some rhythm and flow happening in their frontend with Caitlin Bassett opening the account before moments later Khiarna Williams chimed in with her first. The back-to-back goals for the Magic enabled them to shrink the lead to just one goal before once again the hot hand of Namana came to fruition. The goal shooter was holding well inside the circle, bodying up against the likes of Erena Mikaere and Georgia Tong inside the circle while the pinpoint accurate pass from both Tiana Metuarau and Shannon Saunders was gifting the Steel the upper hand.

Out to a three goal lead in the early stages of the quarter, the Steel looked to be in control but the Magic had other plans as Bassett commanded the ball. The goal shooter showcased every inch of her class and strength to outsmart and outmanoeuvre, opponent Taneisha Fifita. With the attack end upping the ante the defensive combo of Mikaere and Tong also came to life as the momentum started to swing back in favour of the home side. levelling the scores at the eight minute mark the Magic started to work the ball down the court with great depth and precision to bypass the Steel’s hands over pressure. Within the blink of an eye the lead had changed hands as the Magic capitalised on their opportunities, pushing out to a two goal lead which was then cut to one at the first break.

Going into the break with their tails up and about, the Magic were quickly cut down as Namana struck once again, tying things up. This goal-for-goal rhythm ensued for a couple of minutes with both sides scoring off their centre pass and showcasing their willingness to treasure possession. Saunders was doing the heavy lifting in attack for the Steel with the wing attack releasing clever passes to find Namama who had her rhythm firing under the post. The partnership between Bassett and Williams continued to flourish with the latter not only impressing with her accuracy to post but so too her spatial awareness to deliver into her shooting partner time and time again. The influence of Grace Kara was also undeniable for the Magic as they continued to linger despite the increased pressure from the Steel.

This increased pressure allowed the Steel to forge ahead both on the court and on the scoreboard as they skipped out to a two goal lead. But testament to the resilience and never-say-die attitude of the Magic they once again managed to peg the margin back with Sam Winders proving to be electric through the midcourt and transitioning the ball down the court in a flash. Looking for a further spark the Magic made a late change with Holly Fowler coming from the court as youngster Georgie Edgecombe was injected into wing defence in an attempt to shut down Saunders who was carving up the attacking third. The Steel were really starting to fire on all cylinders nailing eight of the last 10 goals of the quarter to give them the upper hand heading into half time.

Having reversed their fortunes from quarter time, to holding a four goal lead at half time the Steel were looking to inflict more pain. After missing last round with a concussion star international recruit George Fisher made her way onto the court in goal shooter and did not take long to find her groove. The changes came thick and fast with Tori Kolose also entering the fray for the Magic to replace Kara while Fowler also came back on with a point to prove. The silky smooth connection between Fisher and Metuarau was up and about early as the duo showcased their smarts to bypass the likes of Mikaere and Tong while up the other end Bassett and Williams were treasuring possession and not affording any opportunity for Fifita and Te Huinga Selby-Rickit to create turnovers.

It was goal for goal for majority of the term with both sides taking some time to settle into their new combinations across the court. The defensive change of Sarahpheinna Woulf into goal defence worked wonders, confusing the space in attack for the Magic and forcing them to work in overdrive to find any sort of room. A flurry of goals to close out the term once again handed the Steel the ascendancy as they maintained a five goal buffer.

It looked as if the Steel had it won and done in the first few minutes of the quarter with Namana and Metuarau adding early scoreboard pressure. But the Magic were not about to roll over and die as Bassett imposed herself in the goal circle with her years of international experience well and truly coming to the fore. She was not the only one that lifted her intensity with Mikaere, Fowler and Edgecombe all dialling it up in defence to win turnover ball and create some momentum out of defence. Winders was up to her usual tricks against Kate Heffernan who was trying to combat her dominance while Katie Te Ao injected some real dynamism into the frontend. The lead slowly started to disintegrate for the Steel as the Magic piled on goal after goal. But they left their run just a little too late as the re-introduction of Fisher proved to be the calming head the Steel needed to grind out the game.

Bassett was in fine form for the Magic, with the Australian goal shooter only missing one goal for the entire game finishing with 34 goals from 35 attempts. Williams also relished her time out on court slotting 20 goals from 23 attempts along with 15 goals assists. Winders also did the heavy lifting in attack racking up 21 goal assists while Mikaere proved to be an imposing figure in defence picking up eight gains as Fowler also got busy with two intercepts. Fisher returned to the fold on limited minutes but still managed to shoot 17 goals from 19 attempts as Namana led the charge with her 24 goals. Metuarau was down on her volume from last week with 15 goals from 20 attempts but recorded a team high 22 goal assists. Heffernan was influential out in centre once again with her two gains and nine goal assists.

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