The spell has been broken. Keeping their incredible home record intact, the Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel have dealt Te Wānanga O Raukawa Pulse their first defeat of the season, 62-52, in the cauldron of ILT Stadium Southland.
After 14 consecutive victories, the Pulse simply could not match the Steel’s intensity and acumen and lost their perfect record on the verge of the finals play-offs.
The Steel have now won all 15 matches played at home in Invercargill since 2017, and the 2018 ANZ Premiership champions must now feel like their chance of defending the title is a more realistic goal.
The Steel, who have played three games in five days, showed just how well-conditioned they are – and how valuable a home advantage is to them, more than any other team in the competition.
After surviving a tough workout from the Magic just over 24 hours earlier, the Pulse made uncharacteristic errors and did not have the same continuity that they have become renowned for this season.
It was a critical 17-11 third quarter win that sealed it for the home side, but what was more impressive was the way they maintained their concentration for the full 60 minutes. They also took the opportunity to introduce a new player, and give their bench crucial court time.
With Steel defender Courtney Elliott out through illness, young Laura Overton got to make her ANZ Premiership debut in the first five minutes when Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit cut her finger.
The Steel defence was impressive from the get-go. Ball wasn’t flying through to Pulse goal shoot Aliyah Dunn, the most accurate shooter in the league, so Ameliaranne Ekenasio put up all of the Pulse’s shots until halfway through the spell.
At the other end, Steel goal attack Te Paea Selby-Rickit was doing a superb job at setting up Lenize Potgieter, and making her own shots count. It was shaping up as one of their most confident and cohesive games of the season.
Although the Steel built up a three-goal buffer at one point, the Pulse had got back to within one, 14-13, when the first quarter ended.
Pulse captain Katrina Rore sought treatment on her ankle during the break, but was back on court for the second spell.
Going goal for goal until near the end of the quarter, when the Steel broke away again, this time leading by four. Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit had snatched four intercepts by halftime, always looking to hunt for the ball.
With Potgieter making sure those opportunities were capitalised on (and finishing the game with an outstanding 45 from 47), the Steel had a strong 32-27 lead at halftime. It was only the second time this season that the Pulse had been behind at the halftime break.
With Gina Crampton (the game’s MVP) and Shannon Saunders in control in the middle, and young wing defence Kate Heffernan was helping to cause havoc for the Pulse attack, the Steel’s lead quickly opened up to eight.
The Pulse needed to instigate change, and brought young goal attack Tiana Metuarau on for Ekenasio. At the same time, Overton re-entered the game, this time to rest Abby Erwood, while Kendall McMinn replaced Heffernan. And suddenly the difference was in double digits.
The Steel led by 11 going into the final quarter, but the Pulse weren’t lying down. They lifted their game, making fewer errors, and closed to within eight. And although the Pulse won the last quarter by one, the Steel remained patient and clear-headed for the confidence-boosting victory.
Official Result and Stats:
Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel: 62
Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse: 52
Champion Data Match Centre
Shooting Stats – Steel:
Lenize Potgieter 45/47 (95.7%)
Te Paea Selby-Rickit: 17/21 (81%)
Georgia Heffernan: 0/3 (0%)
Shooting Stats – Pulse:
Aliyah Dunn: 32/34 (94.1%)
Ameliaranne Ekenasio: 20/26 (76.9%)
MVP: Gina Crampton (Steel)