HAVING claimed three wins and only two losses – both against the Northern Mystics – the Southern Steel broke through for their first win over the reigning premiers this season. The top two sides – who have now played more matches than any other team – are both on 4-2 after the Steel’s five-goal triumph at ILT Stadium yesterday afternoon. It was far from easy, coming back from a quarter time deficit, but by winning the last three quarters, the Steel proved third time truly was a charm, and moved up to within two points of the Mystics with the 64-59 victory.
Having come in off a four-game winning streak including two victories against the Steel, the Mystics started strong by racing to a 17-12 lead in the first term. Towering shooter Grace Nweke put up 16 goals from 21 attempts, as well as six rebounds, whilst opposing shooter George Fisher was deadly accurate. Steel’s Kate Heffernan (six goal assists from eight feeds) was on top of Tayla Earle (three from eight, two penalties and two turnovers), though Claire O’Brien was on top in wing attack with five goal assists from six feeds, and Sulu Fitzpatrick picked up two rebounds and an intercept on Fisher.
Though neither side made any changes at quarter time, eventually Saviour Tui replaced Georgia Heffernan (goal attack) and Te Huinga Selby-Rickit replaced Sarahpheinna Woulf (goal keeper) with Selby-Rickit coming into goal defence, and Kate Burley back up against Nweke. Meanwhile for the Mystics, the only change they made – and it was the first of the match – came six minutes into the term with Elisapeta Toeava replacing O’Brien at wing attack.
That wing attack chance came about after the Steel had piled on nine of the first 12 goals, before the Mystics used the fresh legs to get back on top. Nweke scored seven of the next nine goals by herself, as the Mystics opened up a game-high six-goal lead. Yet again the pendulum would swing, with both Heffernan and then Tui scoring, and the Steel drawing to within a goal in the final 90 seconds. A last second goal from Fisher made the half-time score 29-30, with the reigning premiers marginally up.
The momentum from the Steel that quarter continued somewhat into the third, able to take the lead for the first time meaningful midway through the quarter. Though the Mystics kept pegging them back, five consecutive goals to the home sides saw the Steel take a five-goal lead. Remarkably Nweke was missing chances uncharacteristically, shooting 13 goals from 16 attempts as Burley was doing a great job. Woulf had also returned but in goal defence, whilst Fa’amu Ioane came on at wing defence with Michaela Sokolich-Beatson shuffling to goal defence and Phoenix Karaka having a rest. By the final change, the Steel were now up by two and Fisher was firing on all cylinders.
Selby-Rickitt replaced Woulf to start the final term, whilst the Mystics chances from midway through the third term were reversed again with Karaka returning to the court for Ioane. The Mystics were determined to fight to the end, and after Vui scored a number of goals with Burley on top of Nweke, the scores were level at 55 goals apiece at the 8:15 mark. From that point though, Fisher, Heffernan and then Tui all stepped up to score nine of the next 13 goals for the Steel to run out 64-59 winners.
Fittingly though, for all the impressive performers in the game, it was Southern Steel’s milestone star Shannon Saunders who took out the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award, courtesy of 24 goal assists, five more than any other player. Fisher scored 41 goals from 45 attempts, had four rebbounds and an intercept, whilst Tui (12 from 13) and Georgia Heffernan (13 from 13) both contributed to the score. Burley was particularly strong on Nweke despite the latter still scoring 50 goals from 59 attempts.
Nweke had to carry the bulk of the load, with Vui (nine goals from 13 attempts) the other. Fitzpatrick achieved a match-high three intercepts, as well as three rebounds, whilst Earle and Toeava combined for 33 goal assists from 49 feeds in the loss. Despite the defeat, the Mystics could be pleased that they stuck with it throughout, and considering the Steel had 93 feeds to 68, the defensive end did well to hold up.
Southern Steel clash with Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic on both Saturday and Monday (Anzac Day), whilst Northern Mystics will face off against Northern Stars on Sunday.