Steel bounce back to keep Stars winless
Rebounding from a disappointing previous outing, the Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel held their nerve when it mattered to snatch a 63-61 win over the Northern Stars in Invercargill on Sunday.
In a close and evenly contested match throughout, both teams had their opportunities in a tension-filled final 15 minutes, Steel defender Courtney Elliott providing two big plays to boost her team’s chances.
There was plenty riding on the match, the Steel desperate to put their big loss to the Pulse four days ago behind them while the Stars were desperate to lock in their first win.
However, it was the Steel who held their nerve to nail the key moments. Stars shooter Maia Wilson doing enough to win the game with a personal haul of 42 from 45 in an impressive individual outing but not enough to prevent the Stars recording their third bonus point loss.
Ever-improving late replacement Elliott got the nod at goalkeeper for the Steel while Holly Fowler continued her reinvention as a centre-court contender for the Stars in the all-important fixture.
The home team won the early exchanges, finding more fluency through the midcourt while 1.93m shooter Jennifer O’Connell proved a key asset with her accuracy and rebounding skills to craft a four-goal lead.
The Stars grew into their work, making a late move after eliminating errors and finding slick movement on attack.
Wilson propped up the efforts with an impressive all-round contribution in her general play and impeccable accuracy to give the Stars a narrow 16-15 lead at the first break.
The strong in-circle shooting combination of Wilson and Paula Griffin continued for the visitors on the resumption. The pair showed a growing understanding with their movement, set-up and ball placement as the Stars produced a tidy and error-free performance to maintain their edge.
The Steel resorted to introducing playmaking goal attack Olivia Bates for O’Connell in a bid to add some variety. However, Stars wing defence Fa’amu Ioane was key to slowing the Steel’s attacking momentum while Fowler and Grace Kara ensured the visitors had plenty of ball to play with in holding on to a 33-31 lead at the main break.
With the Stars making major changes for the second half, including Ioane moving to centre, Kirsten Hurley coming from the bench to wing defence and Fowler moving to goal defence, the home team sniffed an opportunity to pounce while they settled.
Four straight goals helped the home team regain the lead in the opening two minutes as momentum swung back and forth in an exciting tussle. Strong scrambling defensive work from Gina Crampton helped the Steel keep their noses in front before a late push by the Stars enabled the visitors to retake the lead, 49-48 at three-quarter time.