With a bigger prize looming next week involving a rematch against the same opponents, the Ascot Park Hotel Steel gained the early favouritism after outshining the Northern Stars 63-46 in Invercargill on Wednesday.
There was some intrigue as to how the teams would play their respective hands ahead of next week’s all-important Elimination Final but both fronted with their strongest line-ups, indicating each wanted to produce the strongest dress rehearsal possible.
On their home court, where the Elimination Final will also be staged, the Steel kept their immaculate record intact, notching up a 16th straight win with a dominant start and finish to the final game of the regular season.
The Stars faltered on the back of a poor start while also struggling to get enough ball to key shooter Maia Wilson.
The Steel couldn’t have wished for a better start, flying out of the blocks as the Stars took time to settle while experiencing some early shooting wobbles.
Slick and speedy through court, the home side were sharp on attack with their fluency and ability to get a wealth of ball to shooters Lenize Potgieter and Te Paea Selby-Rickit.
Staring down the barrel, the Stars made a quick change with import shooter Charlee Hodges replacing Ellen Halpenny midway through, the visitors staging a heartening fightback to stay in touch.
Down 11-1, the Stars did an admirable job to keep the Steel to a 16-11 lead at the first break.
Anchored at either end by the prolific Potgieter and goalkeeper Abby Erwood, who impressed with her cache of intercepts, rebounds and deflections, the Steel looked to take another march when jumping out to a nine-goal advantage on the resumption.
But once again the Stars were able to stay in touch as they ground their way back into contention.
With tenacious captain Leana de Bruin a shining light at the defensive end and Wilson having more opportunities under the hoop, ably supported by Hodges, the visitors took some confidence from a drawn quarter.
That left the Steel with a 29-24 lead at the main break.
Holly Fowler took over at centre for the Stars while Temepara Bailey moved to wing attack as the visitors turned up the heat defensively to open the third stanza.
Successfully chipping into the Steel’s lead, the match livened up as the Stars crept to within two before changes to both sides changed the complexion.
With a view to next week’s winner-takes-all showdown, the Steel introduced Courtney Elliott for Erwood while Kate Burley took over from de Bruin at the Stars defensive end. A few minutes later, the tall figure of Jennifer O’Connell replaced Potgieter under the hoop.
O’Connell’s presence had an immediate impact, the Steel going on to finish the quarter with a flourish, seven unanswered goals helping the home side regain control and a 46-37 lead at the last turn.
Official Result and Stats:
Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel: 63
Northern Stars: 46
Champion Data Match Centre
Shooting Stats – Steel:
Lenize Potgieter 28/32 (88%)
Jen O’Connell 18/22 (82%)
Te Paea Selby-Rickit 17/23 (74%)
Shooting Stats – Stars:
Maia Wilson 33/43 (77%)
Charlee Hodges 12/16 (75%)
Ellen Halpenny 1/2 (50%)
MVP: Shannon Saunders (MVP)