Stars down Steel to clinch Finals Series spot
A storming finish propelled the Robinhood Stars to a dramatic 62-60 extra time win over a gallant Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel in Invercargill on Sunday.
Leading by as many as six goals early in the final stanza, the Steel could not close the door on an ever-persistent Stars in a do-or-die match for the home side as their opportunity to progress to Finals Series ended with the loss.
The defensive efforts of Anna Harrison, Elle Temu, Holly Fowler and Kayla Johnson were key to the Stars levelling the scores at 56-all with 10 seconds to go of regular time. Building on their last quarter success, midcourter Gina Crampton and shooters Maia Wilson and Jamie Hume also maintained their strong presence in the face of a terrific challenge from the home side.
Both teams responded to the importance of the occasion in contrasting fashion as the Stars made a roaring start. Dominating with their seamless through-court play and smothering defence, the visitors rattled the Steel into error.
A five-goal unanswered run and four-goal lead had the Stars humming while putting the Steel on the back foot. Stars wing defence Fowler was a spoiling presence in gaining extra ball with shooters Wilson and Hume chiming in expertly under the hoop.
In-form Stars goal defence Temu was forced of late in the piece with an ankle injury, the Steel showing their true colours with a stirring fightback to trim the visitors’ lead to 13-11 at the first break.
Three goals in a row on the resumption had the Steel back in business as they quickly levelled, both teams delivering a rollicking second quarter which provided plenty of nip and tuck through the ever-riveting contest.
Steel shooters George Fisher, who finished the first half with a flawless 21 from 21, and Georgia Heffernan were an impressive combination under the home team’s hoop while the long arms of twin sister Kate Heffernan, at centre, were effective in securing prized turnover ball. The busy presence of Kate Burley was also a prominent contributor.
After being patched up, Temu made a return to court, the Stars having a smoother and more direct route to goal where Wilson and Hume retained their strong form but with the momentum in their favour, the Steel ensured the match would remain tight.
With the Steel gaining the lead for the first time midway through the stanza, the Stars quickly gained in back before the Steel nudged in front once more to grab a tenuous 28-27 lead at the main break.
With Temu, showing no signs of discomfort from her ankle injury, and Harrison providing the defensive squeeze, the Steel lived on the edge in the opening exchanges of the third quarter.
The Stars defensive pair provided a torrid experience for the Steel shooters but in their hallmark fashion, the home side showed all their patience and resilience to weather the storm.
On the back of a timely turnover from experienced defender Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit, the Steel roared back into the frame with four straight goals to regain the lead and a two-goal buffer.
Captain Shannon Saunders provided the direction from wing attack with a string of pin-point feeds to her shooter Fisher, the England international providing an immense contribution under the hoop as the Steel headed to the last break with a 44-41 lead at the game hanging delicately in the balance.