Following 60 minutes of absorbing netball, it was the Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel who firmed their grip on second place after posting a heart-stopping 60-58 win over the Northern Stars in Auckland today.
While the defending champions successfully rebounded from a hefty loss in the previous round, a gallant Stars were consigned to a third straight loss. Forced into the game with a young and inexperienced attacking end, the Stars were well in the contest throughout but could not match the Steel’s renowned patience when given a sniff to close out a game.
Trailing at halftime, the Steel made their move in the third quarter, gaining in confidence all time while taking full toll on a possession turnover midway through the final quarter with a five-goal scoring burst.
In a frenetic finish, the Stars drew within one with less than a minute to go, eventually running out of time but doing enough to secure a valuable bonus point.
With the experienced pair of midcourter Temepara Bailey and shooter Ellen Halpenny unavailable for this match, it was test of character for the Stars.
As a result, Australian import Charlee Hodges got the start at goal attack and Holly Fowler donned the centre bib while long-limbed shooter Jennifer O’Connell got her first start of the season, ahead of Lenize Potgieter, for the Steel.
There was nothing to separate the teams during a tight and evenly-contested opening stanza, the teams locked in a goal-for-goal arm wrestle.
It was the Steel who finally broke the deadlock, captilising on one of several turnover opportunities that both sides enjoyed to nudge to a narrow 15-14 lead on the stroke of the first quarter break.
The home side made the best of starts on the resumption, scoring the first four goals to regain the lead as captain Leana de Bruin and Storm Purvis turned up the heat on the Steel shooters. Then it was the turn of the visitors, Te Huinga Selby-Rickit and Abby Erwood putting the squeeze on the Stars’ scorers.
With Hodges taking on an extra feeding role and willing to put up the long shot with success, her combination with Maia Wilson under the Stars hoop had an influential bearing on the quarter. With little still separating the teams, the Stars great accuracy helped the home side build a 30-26 half-time lead.
The introduction of Potgieter for O’Connell in the third quarter added more mobility to the Steel’s attacking end with the visitor’s clicking up a gear.
Holding the upper hand, the Steel made the most of their chances, slick transitional play providing more opportunities under the hoop as they went on to level the scores midway through.
In contrast, the Stars shooting end went quiet as the Steel defenders made the transfer of ball into their hands a difficult exercise. However, the home team settled, clinging on gamely while providing the promise of a pulsating final stanza when the Steel led 45-44 at the last turn.
Official Result and Stats:
Northern Stars: 58
Ascot Park Hotel Steel: 60
Champion Data Match Centre
Shooting Stats – Stars:
Maia Wilson 39/49 @ 79.6%
Charlee Hodges 19/24 @ 79.2%
Shooting Stats – Steel:
Lenize Potgieter 22/24 @ 91.7%
Te Paea Selby-Rickit 21/27 @ 77.8%
Jennifer O’Connell 17/24 @ 70.8%
MVP: Gina Crampton (MVP)