Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel v Avis Magic - March 25, 2023
The Ascot Park Hotel has finally racked up a point on the ANZ Premiership ladder – and rightly so after delivering a performance to be proud of against the Avis Magic.
While it might not be the win they were seeking, the 49-54 result of a tight tussle at ILT Stadium Southland tonight at least earned some deserved reward in the form of a bonus point and, most importantly, belief in what’s possible.
The tempo was frantic from the outset and the Steel delivered a cohesive performance, letting the ball soar with a confidence lacking in its previous encounters. The hunger for victory was palpable with a renewed energy throughout.
The southerners reaped the rewards of a midcourt shuffle which saw Sam Winders back in her traditional wing defence bib, Kate Heffernan at centre and emerging star Ivari Christie a revelation at wing attack.
Heffernan in particular was at her menacing best, relishing the opportunity to snaffle turnover ball and dictate proceedings.
Aiding the cause was a tenacious defensive effort from goal keep Kate Burley who racked up an impressive tally of deflections and combined strongly with captain Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit to constantly kept the Magic feeders guessing. During her 20-minute stint on court in the latter stages of the game, goal defence Courtney Elliott ensured her 50th ANZ Premiership appearance was one to be proud of.
In the shooting ranks, Saviour Tui was precisely that, living up to her moniker during her time on court – albeit limited as she manages a return from injury – and forming an effective combination with the hard-working Georgia Heffernan to ensure the Steel remained firmly in the hunt. Eseta Autagavaia was a solid injection into the game for the third spell.
Ultimately greater accuracy across the game propelled Magic to the hard-fought win over a plucky opponent.
Clinching a thrilling extra-time one-goal win last week, the Magic made it a second straight win but facing a rejuvenated Steel, the visitors were forced into a 60-minute grind before pocketing the points.
The Steel, who are rebounding from a tough injury toll, showed large doses of their renowned resilience, patience and dogged determination in a closely-fought tussle.
In a terrific shooting display, superior accuracy eventually sealed the deal for the Magic but the Steel did enough to secure a bonus point, courtesy of finishing within five to post their first points of the season.
Building on her playing minutes since returning from injury, Tui got her first start of the season, slotting in under the hoop at goal shoot while rising midcourt talent Christie got the second start of her young career.
The Magic stuck with the side that served them so well last week with wing defence Charlotte Elley, a new recruit this season, lining up in her 100th national league appearance.
With a couple of lead changes through the first quarter, both teams delivered solid outcomes in the opening exchanges.
With her strength in the air, strong hands and accuracy, Tui made an encouraging start for the home side.
At the other end, the experienced shooting combination of Bailey Mes and Ameliaranne Ekenasio were seamless in converting all their attempts, helping the Magic slip into the first break with a 14-12 lead.
The second stanza followed a similar pattern, the defensive hustle of Burley helping the Steel level up the scores. Neither team were able to make a decisive move, the nip and tuck continuing, with both sides enjoying some memorable standards of play.
Tui continued to impress under the Steel hoop but came under increasing pressure from the tall figure of Erena Mikaere who provided a disruptive and effective resistance.
At the other end, Ekenasio and Mes fronted as a seamless shooting duo, their connection and chemistry in working the circle was pin-point perfect. The positioning of Mes was a particular highlight, the pair helping keep the Magic’s noses in front.
A late push gave the Magic some breathing space when leading 28-24 at the main break, Mes returning an impressive 16 from 16 shots.
Autagavaia took over from Tui on the resumption as the Magic, on occasion, threatened to pull away but the Steel refused to buckle.
The hosts scored the first two and from there, both sides continued to execute exciting passages of play in an ever-absorbing contesting.
In-circle defender Elliott was introduced for the southerners, in her 50th outing, as the impasse remained with neither side able to gain the decisive game-changing moment.
In a bid to pressure more turnovers, Claire Kersten moved from centre to wing defence for the Magic while Georgie Edgecombe came off the bench to centre.
Having the better of the third spell, in which they surpassed their highest score of the season to date, the Steel continued to apply the heat.
However, the Magic remained steadfast in clutching on to a two-goal advantage when going to the last turn with a 40-38, leaving the contest up in the air for an exciting run home.
Shooting Stats - Steel:
Saviour Tui 28/31 (90%)
Georgia Heffernan 10/16 (63%)
Eseta Autagavaia 11/13 (84.6%)
Shooting Stats - Magic:
Ameliaranne Ekenasio 24/26 (92%)
Bailey Mes 30/32 (94%)
MVP: Bailey Mes