Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel v Avis Magic – Round 12 - May 21, 2023
In a cruel way, a one-goal loss almost feels like a fitting way to end the Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel’s 2023 campaign.
Tonight’s heart-breaking 53-52 defeat to the Avis Magic at ILT Stadium Southland sums up a season of challenges for the southern franchise.
All that remained was one shot to avoid an unwanted record of becoming the first team to end a season winless. The Steel had everything to play for and so nearly achieved the win they have been desperately seeking and absolutely deserved to have.
It was touted as the final showdown and didn’t disappoint as the two teams slugged it out in every phase.
The southerners kicked off proceedings with a flurry of goals, taking the Magic by surprise to quickly chalk up a 4-goal buffer.
The frantic pace induced turnovers galore but converting them was the nemesis for both teams at times in the face of dogged defence.
Kate Heffernan was undoubtedly the weapon the Steel needed, dictating play and piling on relentless pressure in a performance which should have sealed her seat on the plane to South Africa for July’s Netball World Cup. Not to be outdone, twin sister Georgia snatched some sublime intercepts of her own and wing defence Sam Winders notched up a trifecta.
Whenever the Magic threatened to gain the ascendency in the latter stages, the Steel responded with the grit which has been a hallmark of their season. Alas, time simply ran out.
Steel head coach Reinga Bloxham remained proud of her players and the fight shown right to the final whistle.
“Absolutely it sums up the season – again very close but can’t quite finish it off. In that last quarter I was proud that we won it, even just by one, and that we didn’t make an error whereas in the past we would have and let them take it. In a way, it was better to be beaten than to lose it so that’s improvement.”
“The game had everything. There was a lot of passion, the crowd were amazing. It was just pretty deflating afterwards to know that we were that close but we couldn’t quite get it. I was proud of the way they hung in there and the way they have handled themselves all season really.”
In her 138th and final national league match, long-standing shooter Bailey Mes bowed out in style.
In a riveting contest and with neither team able to change their positions of fifth (Magic) and sixth (Steel) on the table, both sides still had plenty to play for.
The Steel were desperate to notch their first scalp in a challenging campaign. For the Magic, they were equally desperate to send Mes out on a high note after the long-serving shooter announced her retirement from all netball a few days earlier.
Getting away to a flyer, the Steel showed their intent and desire from the outset.
Showing no signs of panic, the Magic slowly clawed their way back into the contest, levelling the scores up as the teams went toe-to-toe in a match that had all the ingredients of a grand final.
A number of turnovers each way added to proceedings before the Magic finally nudged their way to a 13-12 lead at the first break.
Scoring the first three goals on the resumption, the Steel got away to the best of starts in the second 15 minutes which featured several lead changes.
The constant defensive hustle of the Steel knocked the Magic off-stride on occasions but the calm heads of shooters Mes and Ameliaranne Ekenasio ensured the visitors remained well in the frame. With six intercepts, including three from busy wing defence Winders, compared to the Magic’s one, the home side were winning plenty of extra scoring opportunities.
The tall figure of Amy Christophers was introduced at goal defence for the Magic late in the piece, the visitors halting a four-goal run by their opponents to close the gap. But it was the Steel who turned the tables by taking a similarly narrow advantage into half-time when they led 25-24.
In a bid to change the momentum, the Magic’s mobile shooting pair swapped bibs for the second half with Ekenasio going to goal shoot and Mes out to the wing. But the teams continued to track each other goal-for-goal with neither side able to wrestle the initiative.
Ekenasio was picture perfect under the hoop with 22 from 22 during the first three quarters while centre Georgie Edgecombe provided the speed on attack. With turnovers from both teams tidied up, the margins were narrow. Twice the Magic snuck out to two-goal advantages only to be reeled in by the never-say-die southerners.
With fortunes continuing to swing back and forth, the Magic reclaimed the lead to take a 41-39 lead into the last turn.
In a frantic final quarter Steel defenders Kate Burley and Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit pulled out all the stops against the Silver Ferns shooting duo of Ekenasio and Mes while rising young shooter Saviour Tui rose to the occasion in a pressure-cooker atmosphere.
However, it was the experienced heads of their senior players who won the day for the Magic against an ever-improving Steel in a match that could have gone either way.
Shooting Stats - Steel:
Saviour Tui 41/46 (89.1%)
Georgia Heffernan 11/15 (73.3%)
Shooting Stats - Magic:
Ameliaranne Ekenasio 30/32 (93.8%)
Bailey Mes 23/27 (85.2%)
MVP: Ameliaranne Ekenasio (Magic)