MYSTICS FALL SHORT IN STEEL FORTRESS
On a day that had special significance, the Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel continued their giant-killing ways after securing a memorable 64-59 win over MG Mystics in Invercargill on Sunday.
With full crowds back, there is none better than the faithful at ILT Stadium, who turned out in their droves to celebrate the unique achievement of co-captain Shannon Saunders playing her 150th national league match, all in Steel colours.
With the Georgina Salter Memorial Trophy also on the line, there was double delight for the Steel in honouring the memory of Salter, who was such an influential figure in the south.
Meeting the Mystics for the third time this season, the Steel put 20 and eight-goal losses behind them with a classic response in showcasing all the hallmarks that make them such a force.
Down by five after the first quarter, the Steel showed all their determination, resolve and grit as they went on to win the next three to subdue the competition benchmarks, who slipped to their second loss of the season.
In the continuing rotation of personnel due to Covid, the Steel welcomed experienced defender Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit, midcourter Ali Wilshier and coach Reinga Bloxham back to the action while Mystics coach Helene Wilson and shooter Monica Falkner were left isolating at home in Auckland.
It didn’t long for the visitors to find their range with a steady stream of ball finding its way into the hands of prolific shooter Grace Nweke. At the other end, the imposing defensive unit of Phoenix Karaka and Sulu Fitzpatrick put the squeeze on the Steel’s scoring opportunities with telling effect.
Trailing by seven, the home side delivered a strong late run before the Mystics took a handy 17-12 lead into the first break.
The southerners refused take a backward step, emerging with all guns blazing on the resumption to ensure the Mystics had a game on their hands.
The links on attack between Saunders and goal attack Georgia Heffernan settled into a productive unit while ever-reliable shooter George Fisher was a constant threat with ball in hand. Showing their renowned determination and resolve the Steel levelled the scores midway through.
That prompted the injection of electric wing attack Peta Toeava for the Mystics, resulting in a run of five straight goals to regain the initiative. With Selby-Rickit, in her 190th national league match, and talented shooter Saviour Tui coming on for the Steel, momentum swung once again.
Clawing back a five-goal deficit, backed by their large and supportive crowd, the Steel scored five of their own, to leave the Mystics with a tenuous 30-29 lead at the main break.
Showing they were more than up for the challenge the Steel went toe-to-toe with the Mystics in the opening minutes of the third stanza before edging into the lead.
Fisher was immense under the hoop for the Steel with her finishing, movement and rebounding credentials and found a productive offsider in Tui who played a strong hand. Steering the ship perfectly on attack was the experienced head of Saunders.
Under enormous pressure at times, the Mystics were a little unsettled in the face of the unrelenting challenge from the home side. Toeava put in some trademark pinpoint feeds to Nweke to stop the rot after the Steel forged a handy five-goal buffer in a high-scoring quarter.
Chewing further into the deficit, the Mystics could not prevent the home side taking a 48-46 lead into the last turn and with it the promise of an exciting run home.