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Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel defeated 54-43 by Splice Construction Magic - June 4, 2022

Unfortunately, there will be plenty of time for the Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel to dissect today’s 54-43 loss to the Splice Construction Magic.

In its last assignment of the 2022 ANZ Premiership, the Steel faltered and struggled to find the cohesion needed to bow out on a sought-after high.

Out of the running for a tilt at the title, both teams were playing for pride in Hamilton and it would appear the Magic simply craved it more to boast 13-8, 20-26 and 30-41 advantages after each phase.

Steel alumni Erena Mikaere and Leana de Bruin were a disruptive presence on defence for the home side, applying relentless pressure from the outset to snaffle vital turnovers which were in turn ably converted by the experienced shooting pairing of Bailey Mes and Ameliaranne Ekenasio.

Not to be outdone, their Steel counterparts Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit and Kate Burley collected ample possession but it was too often squandered as forced passes lead to disjointed flow on attack.

Steel head coach Reinga Bloxham opted to shuffle her lineup in the final stanza, initially reaping the rewards to venture back within six and, while the momentum couldn’t be sustained, the southerners were able to draw the final spell of the game.

Steel captain Shannon Saunders was naturally disappointed by the performance.

‘We really let ourselves down in the first three quarters with personal errors … it’s just not good enough at this level,” she told Sky Sport.

“We put each other under pressure not clearing the hands, not grabbing the ball strongly, and you could tell they were hungrier out there on court and we just weren’t.”

The result would not define the Steel’s season with plenty of positives to reflect on.

“We’ve come a long way. At times you’ve seen that youth and that inconsistency but the experience that we’ve gained this year is really awesome. If we can keep a similar team for next year we’ll be in good stead,” Saunders said.

“We’ve had some amazing games. I think Covid just hit us at a really crucial time when we were starting to get some momentum and we just kind of lost it after that which is disappointing but we can be proud of some of the games we put out there.”

Magic captain Sam Winders was proud of her team’s fight to the finish.

“Definitely that’s the sort of game is what we want to bring forward into next year. Happy to finish on a high and that’s the result of all the hard work we’ve been doing this year,” she said.

“It’s just been a massive year of resilience I think. It’s been about who can stand up, who can take on the hard times and who can rise up when we need them to each game.”

Hauling themselves off the bottom of the table, Magic ended their season in style. Needing to post 45 goals and then win by more than three, the Magic responded in the best possible fashion, the 11-goal winning margin pushing them above the Trident Homes Tactix at season’s end.

In the rescheduled Round 7 match and final game of an extended regular season, both teams were intent on finishing their campaigns on a high note with pride the defining motivator.

In an injury and illness-affected season, the Magic showed what could have been with a determined final fling, enjoying the weight of possession which translated into handing them the edge throughout.

Extending her national league appearance record, evergreen defender de Bruin lined up in her 229th match alongside centurion Mikaere in the Magic’s starting seven.

The Steel welcomed Renee Savai’inaea back to the mix, the influential wing defence spending recent rounds side-lined by injury, while Saviour Tui got the nod at goal attack.

The early impetus was with the Magic, the experienced midcourt duo of Claire Kersten and Winders providing a solid wall of defence to stifle the Steel’s attacking momentum.

The Steel replied with their own defensive grind, Shannon Saunders and Kate Heffernan helping the visitors get back on level terms in an ever-building battle between two well-credentialled midcourts.

With Mes, showing fine form with her positional play and accuracy at the shooing end, and Mikaere proving a defensive menace at the other, the Magic finished with a flourish to take a 13-8 lead into the first break.

Showing plenty of energy, the Magic continued to hold the upper-hand on the resumption. With the budding combination of Mes and Ekenasio to the fore in the goal circle, the home side were efficient and effective on attack.

The Steel were not without their moments and could never be counted out but their efforts were often stalled by soft turnovers in a disjointed challenge.

The defensive work of Mikaere and de Bruin caused plenty of strife for the Steel shooters while Kersten and Winders provided the punch in the middle, both on attack and defensively, as the Magic built to a 26-20 lead at the main break.

Getting more ball into the hands of reliable shooter George Fisher’s hands proved fruitful in the opening stages of the third stanza as the Steel staged a brief comeback. That prompted a decisive response from the home side who put their foot down with a withering burst.

Mes featured in much of the Magic’s fine turn of form, gathering turnover ball on defence while converting a flurry of shots when turning and shooting from range. A run of five straight goals pushed the home side into a position of comfort, leaving the hapless southerners with few answers.

The experienced Kersten continued to be a strong presence in the midcourt with the ability to snaffle turnover opportunities while also being a key link, in tandem with Simmon Wilbore, to the shooters as the Magic rolled into three-quarter time with a comfortable 41-30 lead.

Official Result and Stats:
Splice Construction Magic: 54
Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel: 43

Shooting Stats - Magic:
Bailey Mes 28/33 (85%)
Ameliaranne Ekenasio 25/30 (83%)
Ivana Rowland 1/2 (50%)
Eseta Autagavaia 0/1 (0%)

Shooting Stats - Steel:
George Fisher 24/26 (92%)
Saviour Tui 13/13 (100%)
Georgia Heffernan 6/9 (67%)

MVP: Bailey Mes (Magic)


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