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Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel defeated 59-67 by the MG Mystics - April 2, 2022

In a highly-anticipated top of the table clash, the Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel suffered a 59-67 defeat against the MG Mystics in Auckland.

While there was more respectability to the margin in this rematch, any losing score certainly stings.

Despite an impressive opening spell from the Steel, the home side raised the stakes in the next two phases and were punishing on defence, with the intimidating duo of Sulu Fitzpatrick and Phoenix Karaka having a significant impact.

Regardless of the scoreboard, the Steel’s report card will boast an A+ for effort with special mention to Kate Heffernan who hauled in four intercepts.

It was always going to be a tough assignment against the defending champions and the loss of experienced campaigner Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit and shooter Saviour Tui to illness didn’t help the southerner’s situation.

On a positive note, it did result in the Steel adding two new names to its alumni ranks with shooter Jess Allan and defender Losa Fifita staging their ANZ Premiership debut for the team.

Steel captain Shannon Saunders told Sky Sport her team had more fight in it.

“It was definitely much improved from last time. We did go down a bit but we didn’t drop our heads this time – we just kept fighting back and that last quarter was good in that we could close it up, but not quite enough,” she said.

“We just used our ball speed down that attack end and really treasured any ball that we got. It’s really hard to get any turnover ball off Mystics so we needed to make sure we scored it.”

Towering shooter Grace Nweke again proved a formidable weapon for the Mystics.

“They (Mystics) just score so quickly and we need to be really clinical on attack because you just can’t afford to lose ball. Any ball we do get on D we need to treasure it. When we were slick on attack that worked, but when we had lapses that’s when they kind of got away on us,” Saunders said.

“You just need to break it down before it gets into their circle. It’s really hard when it’s up in the air against Grace. We’re not the tallest team so we need to get a bit smarter about how we turn it over.”

Mystics captain Sulu Fitzpatrick was proud of her team’s performance.

“We know that Steel’s really tough to get the ball off so we knew it was going to be a grind on D to weather the storm and get the fruits of our labour. And on attack we knew they would be attacking everything first phase so it was really tough but I’m glad it paid off,” she said.

Showcasing their depth of talent, the Mystics proved too classy for the spirited Steel, who finished with a flourish to win the last quarter.

Dominating the middle stages of the match, the Mystics were able to give their full bench court time after building into a position of dominance.

With a rich variety of options at their disposal, the Mystics started with versatile midcourter Claire O’Brien at wing attack while defender Karaka made a return from concussion to slot in at goal defence.

It was a different story for a depleted Steel. Sarahpheinna Woulf was given the rare opportunity to start a match when partnering with Kate Burley at the Steel defensive end.

The pair level-pegged through much of the opening stanza, the home side nudging ahead a couple of times but the Steel showed their patience and resolve to reel back any deficit with well-taken turnover opportunities.

Finding an easier path into their shooting circle where the prolific Nweke was a standout presence, it was the Mystics who secured a slim 16-15 lead heading into the first break.

There were ominous signs for the Steel on the resumption when the Mystics posted the first five scoring opportunities. Efficient on attack and relentless defence, where the back three of Michaela Sokolich-Beatson, Karaka and Fitzpatrick tightened their grip, helped the home side gain the upper hand.

With opportunities on attack becoming increasingly difficult, Steel shooter George Fisher was again a dominant presence with her accuracy and timing but her volume dried up.

Relentless pressure paid off for the Mystics as they built on their buffer, delivering a decisive second quarter to push out to a handy 35-27 lead at the main break with Nweke returning a perfect 30 from 30 after 30 minutes.

The Steel made the early running to start the third stanza but with the introduction of accurate shooter Filda Vui, dynamic midcourter Peta Toeava and dogged wing defence Fa’amu Ioane for the second half, it was not long before the home side reasserted their dominance.

The Mystics depth was all too evident, with Toeava immediately on-song in showing her intuitive connection with Nweke as the home side nailed home their advantage.

There were messy passages from both sides with turnovers flying both ways but there was no stopping the rampant Mystics as they left the Steel fighting for the scraps.

Getting the ball circle-bound was at opposite extremes for the Mystics and Steel. Having the luxury of the 1.93m Nweke as their target under the hoop provided numerous feeding options for the home side.

Forced to go the other route and find their way to the circle edge, the Steel were stalled by the effective and relentless smothering defensive efforts of the Mystics back three.

Rangy centre Heffernan, impressive shooter Fisher, busy wing defence Renee Savai’inaea and non-stop goalkeeper Burley couldn’t be faulted for their efforts in a challenging outing for the Steel but which ultimately couldn’t prevent the Mystics rolling in to the last break with a healthy 53-40 lead.

Official Result and Stats:
MG Northern Mystics: 67
Ascot Park Hotel Steel: 59

Shooting Stats - Mystics:
Grace Nweke 45/46 (98%)
Filda Vui 12/16 (75%)
Monica Falkner 8/11 (73%)
Danielle Binks 2/3 (67%)

Shooting Stats - Steel:
George Fisher 47/50 (94%)
Georgia Heffernan 12/18 (67%)
Jess Allan 0/3 (0%)

MVP: Tayla Earle (Mystics)


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