Steel show their mettle to deflect Mystics
Despite a compelling effort from the SKYCITY Mystics, the Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel have ground out a crucial 56-52 victory at home in Invercargill.
It was the Mystics’ strongest performance of the ANZ Premiership so far – with standout performances from Bailey Mes, scoring 100 percent of her 31 attempts at goal, and Phoenix Karaka stealing six intercepts at goal keep.
But the visitors just ran short in the last 15 minutes, and the seasoned Steel line-up stayed steady and composed to take charge in the final quarter.
A calm start by Mes at goal shoot gave the Mystics an early confidence boost. But a little overenthusiastic passing into the circle, and the long reach of Steel defender Te Huinga Selby-Rickit, stopped the Mystics from making a break on the scoreboard.
The Steel’s lofty shooter Jen O’Connell was put to the test by Karaka, who was 7cm shorter but used her elevation to great effect. But still, the young O’Connell held her nerve.
The home side had the narrowest of leads, 15-14, at the first break, but midway through the quarter the Mystics took the lead through some sharp defence by the international trio of Karaka, Anna Harrison and Michaela Sokolich-Beatson.
All the while the Steel kept in the game, through some solid midcourt work from Shannon Francois and Wendy Frew, and a buzzer beater from O’Connell gave the home side the edge again, 29-28, at halftime.
The Mystics made a change to their shooting arsenal, with Tera-Maria Amani coming in at goal shoot and Mes moving to goal attack. While they settled into a rhythm, the Steel sneaked out to a three-goal lead, but it was still not decisive.
With the sides locked at 38-all with four minutes of the third quarter remaining, the Steel finally stepped up a gear and snatched a 43-39 lead. Goal keep Courtney Elliott, a late addition to the Steel squad this season, certainly made her presence felt, rattling the Mystics attack in the final stanza.
Kendall McMinn earned her first cap in the ANZ Premiership, replacing captain Frew at wing defence, as the Steel kept building until they were nine ahead.
But Te Paea Selby-Rickit’s departure from the court almost looked a little premature, as the Mystics closed to within three in the final minute to snatch a bonus point. But again, the Steel stood strong before a relieved Stadium Southland crowd.