Stars upset Steel to advance to Grand Final
Delivering when it mattered most, the Northern Stars have advanced to the ANZ Premiership Grand Final after upsetting defending champions Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel 56-53 in the Elimination Final in Invercargill on Wednesday.
The Stars will meet Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse to decide the ANZ premiership title in Porirua on Monday.
Getting their noses in front just ahead of halftime, a determined Stars turned around a 17-goal deficit from when the teams met just a week ago while also becoming the first team to break the Steel’s 16-game winning streak on their home court at ILT Stadium during the past three seasons.
Shooter Maia Wilson was a commanding presence under the Stars hoop with an impressive all-round game backed up by converting 43 goals from 45 attempts in helping end the Steel’s two-year reign as title winners.
The result has also prolonged the careers of veteran Stars players Temepara Bailey and Leana de Bruin who will both retire at the end of the season.
The Steel retained their tried and true starting line-up while the Stars opted for import shooter Charlee Hodges at goal attack and Kayla Cullen at wing defence to open the game.
Fittingly for the status of the match, the lead changed hands several times in an absorbing first quarter. The home side imposed themselves early when forging a 5-1 lead in the opening three minutes but once in the groove, the Stars made sure of an even contest.
Tightening their through-court defence provided turnover opportunities for the visitors which they made the most off to nudge into the lead, the scoreline going back and forth during the latter stages of the quarter.
Anchoring their respective ends, shooters Lenize Potgieter and Wilson were key figures in posting perfect first quarters where the Steel took a narrow 15-14 lead.
It was a similar formula on the resumption with Stars defenders de Bruin and Storm Purvis turning up the heat. Rising young Steel midcourter Kate Heffernan provided the same impetus for her team.
Both teams were forced to play short, sharp attacking games at times to negate the defensive prowess of both sides. The Steel broke the shackles to forge a handy six-goal advantage with the timing of Potgieter under the home team’s hoop proving influential.
A three-goal run helped the Stars pull back the Steel’s lead to a 30-27 advantage at the main break.
With Bailey moving to wing attack and Holly Fowler coming off the bench and into centre for the second half, the Stars scored the first three goals of the third stanza to get back on level terms.
The Stars defensive unit continued to apply the blowtorch with the relentless efforts of de Bruin and Purvis paying dividends. With the pressure building all the time, the Steel found it more difficult to contain the growing confidence from their opponents.
In an increasingly tight and tense encounter, it was the Stars who turned the game on its head when matching the Steel goal-for-goal before a rock-solid Wilson pushed the visitors out to a 43-41 lead at the last turn.