Depleted Southern Steel overcome feeble Mainland Tactix with last quarter burst - June 14, 2017
by BRENDON EGAN
Southern Steel netballers burst into tears at fulltime after they capped off an emotional 48 hours with victory.
The Steel kept their hopes of a perfect season alive, stunning the Mainland Tactix with a fourth quarter fightback to win 51-46 at Christchurch's Horncastle Arena on Wednesday night.
It left them unbeaten in all 14 premiership matches this season. They have one final round game against the Central Pulse on Monday in Invercargill.
It was a courageous display from the Steel, who were missing four of their frontline starters following Monday's accident in Christchurch, where their team van, carrying six team members, was flipped on its side by a car.
Skipper Wendy Frew, who underwent surgery on her elbow and leg, was sidelined as expected, while Silver Ferns Shannon Francois, Te Paea Selby-Rickit and Jamaican star Jhaniele Fowler-Reid also sat out the game.
Frew's left leg was heavily bandaged and she was using a crutch raising questions about her availability for the last two weeks of the campaign.
The Steel produced a gritty performance to be proud of, outscoring the Tactix 13-5 in the last term.
Stand-in Steel captain Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit, who was studying in her lower North Island hometown of Otaki when the crash happened, was delighted. Selby-Rickit's younger sister, Te Paea, was involved in the accident, and she said it had been an awful few days for everyone at the Steel.
"I don't think we knew how much it meant until it ended. Everyone was so happy, there were a few tears. It means so much because it's been a really tough week and we haven't had four of our players," Selby-Rickit said.
"That was pretty much half of our team gone."
There were some fine play late in the game in the defensive end from Selby-Rickit and Jane Watson, while debutante Jennifer O'Connell was cool in the shooting circle.
Selby-Rickit said it was vital the experienced players led the way in the final quarter with such a young group out there.
"I think we had a bit in the tank because of what's happened. We knew in the last quarter we had to push extra, extra hard, especially Gina [Crampton], Jane [Watson] and myself, as the senior players in the team.
"We knew we had to lead from the front. All the other girls were amazing. In the last quarter, they were stars."
It was an embarrassing fourth quarter from the full-strength Tactix side, who fall to 1-13 on the season.
Tactix coach Marianne Delaney-Hoshek said her players "froze" in the final quarter, blowing any chance of a rare second win in three games. She admitted her side didn't know how to close out a game under pressure.
"To me, it looked like they froze up a little bit. Not having a lot of time in those situations can hurt you. The Steel went out and they had a real point to prove. Those players came on and really did their job."
The Steel are already assured of top spot and a home final in Invercargill on June 28 and will hope their walking wounded have recovered sufficiently by then.
Little separated the sides in the first half with the Tactix going into the halftime break with a 29-26 buffer.
Down by three approaching the final quarter, the Steel snuck ahead with six minutes left to play (44-43), courtesy of a 6-2 run.
The Steel started positively with young shooters, O'Connell, in her first start, and Jamie Hume impressing early on.
O'Connell, who stands 1.93m tall, produced a standout performance, slotting 38/45 and showed signs she could be the long-term replacement for Fowler-Reid one day.
Midcourter Dani Gray and shooter Olivia Bates both got on for their Steel debuts in the second quarter, having been called up from South's second tier Beko League team.
Selby-Rickit said the players, who stepped in, were outstanding with O'Connell thriving in her first ANZ Premiership start.
"She's been amazing on Monday and throughout the whole week. I think she knew this was her opportunity and man she took it with two hands. She put all the goals in when we really needed them."
AT A GLANCE:
Steel 51 (Jennifer O'Connell: 38/45, Jamie Hume: 8/15, Olivia Bates: 4/6, Aliyah Dunn: 1/2)
Tactix 46 (Ellie Bird: 35/41, Brooke Leaver: 11/14)
1Q: 13-14, HT: 26-29, 3Q: 38-41.