A composed Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel held the table-topping Northern Mystics at arm’s length, their 61-58 victory netting the southerners three crucial points.

The three-goal win at ILT Stadium Southland in Invercargill keeps the Steel on the pace for a prized spot in the ANZ Premiership’s Finals Series, ends the Mystics run of five straight victories and also keeps the Georgina Salter Memorial Trophy in the Deep South.

The Steel went into the match with a plan to disrupt the Mystics’ attacking flow and the full-court defensive pressure did just that, never allowing the visitors to find their rhythm up front.

Mystics Assistant Coach Rob Wright gave credit to the Steel for disrupting their flow.

“Their defence was able to disrupt us a lot more than we should have allowed them to but that’s the pressure they created. We weren’t on song today and we need to learn from that. 

Wright was also disappointed with the team’s low conversion rate with their intercepts.

“We won quite a lot of ball but we didn’t capitalise on that. If we’re serious about being a real contender we have to be better than we were tonight. You simply can’t play in fits and starts.”

There were no surprises in the starting line-ups for either side although all eyes turned to the Mystics bench where defender and new mum Phoenix Karaka made a welcomed return to the blue strip.

With plenty riding on the match, both teams made an error-free start scoring from their own centre passes – the Mystics the first to drop the ball with the Steel making them pay to go up 8-5.

The hosts held the lead for much of the spell but were made to work hard for every goal, looking hesitant at times to put the ball over the Mystics defensive duo of Sulu Fitzpatrick and Kate Burley.

The Steel’s reputation of patience however paid dividends as they waited for the space to open, the southerners heading into the first break with an 18-15 advantage.

A missed attempt at goal from the Mystics early in the second stanza was converted by the Steel as they opened a five-goal buffer – the shooter-to-shooter play between George Fisher, who played a full 60 minutes, and Tiana Metuarau proving difficult to stop.

The Mystics struggled to find their rhythm on both attack and defence but a clean intercept from Burley looked to ignite the visitors into action, clawing back a couple of key goals.

The lead was momentarily closed to three before the Steel pushed again, working hard to turn over ball before it got near the hands of Mystics’ key shooter Grace Nweke.

Mystics coach Helene Wilson looked to cut the six-goal deficit late in the half as she injected Filda Vui into the game, replacing Bailey Mes with four minutes remaining, while the Steel also turned to their bench as Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit made way for Sarapheinna Woulf as the clock ticked down.

A frantic few minutes saw the Mystics capitalise and the visitors headed for the changing rooms at half time trailing 29-31.

It was a more urgent Mystics unit which made their way back to the court, led by Peta Toeava, and they levelled the scores early in the third quarter as the two teams then went goal-for-goal for a large period of the spell.

Selby-Rickit returned to the court for the second half and her combination with Taneisha Fifita did enough to put some doubt into the Mystics’ usual straight feed into Nweke.

The Mystics also made a change to their defensive unit with Ama Agbeze coming on to goal keeper with just over three minutes left in the spell and Fitzpatrick moving out to goal defence.

It did little to stop the inter-play between Fisher and Metuarau as the Steel finished the quarter strongly to turn to the final stanza with a slender 47-45 lead.

The Mystics threw one last defensive change late in the match with Karaka returning to the Premiership fray with a run at goal keeper, but a composed Steel side was not to be flustered, holding on for the win.

Official Result and Stats: 

Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel: 61
Northern Mystics: 58

Champion Data Match Centre

Shooting Stats – Steel:
George Fisher 39/41 (95%)
Tiana Metuarau 22/46 (85%)

Shooting Stats – Mystics:
Grace Nweke 50/57 (88%)
Filda Vui 6/6 (100%)
Bailey Mes 2/3 (67%)

MVP: Renee Savai’inea (Steel)