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Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel win 68-57 over Splice Construction Magic - May 22, 2022

With no option but to win, the Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel stepped up to the challenge at ILT Stadium Southland today, toppling the Splice Construction Magic 68-57.

Desperate to keep its ANZ Premiership chances alive, the southerners unleashed their dominant best and never relinquished the lead despite some gritty attempts by the Magic.

With a 17-10 advantage after the opening spell, the Steel had to endure several scoring bursts from the visitors as they ramped up the defensive pressure and ventured back within three set to strike.

When the going gets tough, you can ‘count on Kate’ and the Steel’s dynamic duo of Kate Heffernan and Kate Burley were unwavering in their work rate to earn essential turnovers and a raft of deflections to their credit.

Boasting a 33-26 buffer at halftime, the Steel again had to repeal the threat of a Magic fightback in the third phase, but its resolve was steadfast and testament to the collective efforts on court.

Steel captain Shannon Saunders praised the turnaround in form just 24 hours after a loss to the Te Wānanga O Ruakawa Pulse.

“It was definitely a better collective working together and everyone stepped up when we needed to. We’re still having those lulls and letting them back in the game which is disappointing but it’s awesome that we pushed on and managed to win by a bit in the end,” she told Sky Sport.

In a stark contrast to its previous performance, the Steel converted an impressive 21 of its 22 turnovers.

“That’s the Steel way – if it’s going to take 30 or 40 passes, we are going to do that. I thought we were much more clinical tonight in doing that and our defence worked really hard bringing it down on the transverse line for us attackers.”

After an intense schedule, the Steel will enjoy a week off before facing the in-form Robinhood Stars next Sunday.

“We’ve had four games in eight days so I think the girls well deserve a rest. Last time we played the Stars they had a few players out so we really need to look at them. We will need to treasure ball because their defence is super rangy and like to confuse the space. So we need to take care, use the ball speed and keep scoring our turnover ball.”

Magic captain Sam Winders was pragmatic in her assessment of the encounter.

“It sucks, it’s another disappointing feeling. But there were definitely moments where the urgency was there and we were able to connect through that effort. It’s just trying to bring that energy together and get it working for a full 60,” she said.

“The last few years have taught me that each game brings something new so you have to be ready to go again every game regardless of what happened the last week.

“It’s just been a funny old season.”

Playing for their season injected all the motivation the Steel needed to get the job done and, despite being left looking over their shoulders during a threatening middle two quarters from the Magic, a strong opening and finish helped the home side grab the crucial winning points.

Magic pushed hard but lacked the Steel’s overall accuracy while home side shooter George Fisher delivered a match-winning 50 goals from 51 attempts.

With a crammed programme to finish the season and backing up after playing just 24 hours earlier, Ali Wilshier got a rare start at centre for the Steel while Kate Heffernan moved across to wing defence.

Building momentum, the Magic opted for Georgia Tong, back to full fitness, getting the start at goal defence and shooters Ameliaranne Ekenasio and Bailey Mes continuing their budding partnership under the hoop.

The first quarter was highlighted by loose play by both teams and a lack of execution but it was the home side who settled the best to finish with a telling flourish.

The experienced Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit and her rising young in-circle defensive partner Kate Burly continued their blossoming team-work to grab early turnovers while the rangy Kate Heffernan was a constant thorn at wing defence.

Her twin sister Georgia worked the shooting circle effectively and efficiently with the prolific Fisher under the hoop to nail their early chances.

Threatening at times, the Magic were undone by soft turnovers, the Steel needing no second invitation to pot the last five goals before heading to the first break with a handy 17-10 lead.

The Steel defence grabbed a flurry of turnovers on the resumption, the home side quickly shooting out to an 11-goal lead and ominous signs for the Magic.

However, the switch of Claire Kersten into centre and Samantha Winders to wing defence, resulted in a lift in defensive intensity from the visitors.

With goalkeeper Erena Mikaere out hunting and the athletic Tong combining to grab extra ball, the Magic made decisive steps in chipping away at the deficit.

Mes was in fine form under the Magic hoop, slotting a string of long-range goals as the visitors’ narrowed the margin to five. Regrouping, the Steel put a halt to the revival, defence again, changing momentum back to the southerners.

Faultless under the hoop, Fisher, with a 25 from 25 return, ensured the Steel held the edge when leading 33-26 at the main break after a drawn second spell.

The switch of Mes, to goal shoot, and Ekenasio to goal attack, provided plenty of movement and openings for the Magic, with the visitors making a strong comeback during the third quarter. Mes continued to impress with her turn-and-shoot attitude.

At the other end, Mikaere and Tong continued to gather momentum as a pairing while pulling in bonus opportunities as the Magic sent some nervous tension the Steel’s way.

In a valiant run, the Magic closed to within four in another high-scoring stanza before the Steel, once again, regained their poise to steady the ship.

Moving to centre did not detract from Kate Heffernan’s ability to snap up an intercept or two, just when required (four for the match). A late perfectly-timed turnover helping the Steel retain their edge and three goals on the trot to head to the last break with a 49-41 lead.

Official Result and Stats:
Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel: 68
Splice Construction Magic: 57

Shooting Stats - Steel:
George Fisher 50/51 (98%)
Georgia Heffernan 18/20 (90%)

Shooting Stats - Magic:
Ameliaranne Ekenasio 26/29 (90%)
Bailey Mes 31/36 (86%)

MVP: Kate Heffernan (Steel)


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