Stars shine with upset opening win over Steel
The Northern Stars held on to open their account with an upset 66-64 win over defending champions Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel to kick-start Super Sunday’s opening round in Hamilton on Sunday.
With the return of two greats of the game in midcourter Temepara Bailey and defender Leana de Bruin, the Stars showed they mean business in 2019 when producing a sizzling opening quarter.
However, it was young guns Maia Wilson and Mila Reuelu-Buchanan who delivered the early fireworks.
Moving north from the Pulse in the off-season, wing attack Reuelu-Buchanan formed a reliable and impressive combination with shooter Wilson, who was rock solid in her movement and accuracy as the Stars rocketed out to a 21-15 lead at the first break.
In fine form, Wilson was a standout throughout the match with her consistency of play and fine return of 51 goals from 57 attempts.
Showing plenty of spirit, the Steel replied forcefully on the resumption, chipping away at the deficit on the back of strong attacking play from midcourter Gina Crampton and shooter Lenize Potgieter.
Playing her first match for the Steel, Potgieter drove strongly, getting her hands on plenty of ball while helping propel the Steel into a stirring fightback and a two-goal lead in a fast-paced outing.
Athletic wing defence Kayla Cullen made her long-awaited return from injury to take over from Holly Fowler as the Stars hit back late in the piece to restore their advantage when leading 37-34 at halftime.
The Steel did their best to restrict the Stars preference for a pacey game during the third quarter but with little luck.
The league’s newest team also showed patience when required to keep their noses in front before ramming home their advantage.
The experience of Bailey was evident and well-supported by the back three of de Bruin, Cullen and Storm Purvis who grabbed a host of turnover opportunities. Becoming more hesitant on attack, the Steel brought tall shooter Jen O’Connell on to replace Potgieter, the Stars retaining their poise for a 55-47 lead at the last break.
The impact of goalkeeper Taneisha Fifita coupled with their renowned pedigree helped engineer an exciting finish as the Steel threw everything into a spirited final quarter resurgence.
After clawing their way back from a 10-goal deficit to level the scores with just over three minutes to go, the Steel were eventually pipped by a clutch goal from Australian import Charlee Hodges and a Cullen pick-up as the Stars held their nerve to close out a narrow win.