Playing for their season, the Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel rose to the occasion to complete the job with a comfortable 68-57 win over Splice Construction Magic in Invercargill on Sunday.
Left looking over their shoulders during a threatening middle two quarters from the Magic, a strong opening and finish helped the home side grab the crucial winning points.
Magic pushed hard but lacked the Steel’s overall accuracy while home side shooter George Fisher delivered a match-winning 50 goals from 51 attempts.
With a crammed programme to finish the season and backing up after playing just 24 hours earlier, Ali Wilshier got a rare start at centre for the Steel while Kate Heffernan moved across to wing defence.
Building momentum, the Magic opted for Georgia Tong, back to full fitness, getting the start at goal defence and shooters Ameliaranne Ekenasio and Bailey Mes continuing their budding partnership under the hoop.
The first quarter was highlighted by loose play by both teams and a lack of execution but it was the home side who settled the best to finish with a telling flourish.
The experienced Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit and her rising young in-circle defensive partner Kate Burly continued their blossoming team-work to grab early turnovers while the rangy Kate Heffernan was a constant thorn at wing defence.
Her twin sister Georgia worked the shooting circle effectively and efficiently with the prolific Fisher under the hoop to nail their early chances.
Threatening at times, the Magic were undone by soft turnovers, the Steel needing no second invitation to pot the last five goals before heading to the first break with a handy 17-10 lead.
The Steel defence grabbed a flurry of turnovers on the resumption, the home side quickly shooting out to an 11-goal lead and ominous signs for the Magic.
However, the switch of Claire Kersten into centre and Samantha Winders to wing defence, resulted in a lift in defensive intensity from the visitors.
With goalkeeper Erena Mikaere out hunting and the athletic Tong combining to grab extra ball, the Magic made decisive steps in chipping away at the deficit.
Mes was in fine form under the Magic hoop, slotting a string of long-range goals as the visitors’ narrowed the margin to five. Regrouping, the Steel put a halt to the revival, defence again, changing momentum back to the southerners.
Faultless under the hoop, Fisher, with a 25 from 25 return, ensured the Steel held the edge when leading 33-26 at the main break after a drawn second spell.
The switch of Mes, to goal shoot, and Ekenasio to goal attack, provided plenty of movement and openings for the Magic, with the visitors making a strong comeback during the third quarter. Mes continued to impress with her turn-and-shoot attitude.
At the other end, Mikaere and Tong continued to gather momentum as a pairing while pulling in bonus opportunities as the Magic sent some nervous tension the Steel’s way.
In valiant run, the Magic closed to within four in another high-scoring stanza before the Steel, once again, regained their poise to steady the ship.
Moving to centre did not detract from Kate Heffernan’s ability to snap up an intercept or two, just when required (four for the match). A late perfectly-timed turnover helping the Steel retain their edge and three goals on the trot to head to the last break with a 49-41 lead.