The Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel delivered coach Noeline Taurua, in her 100th ANZ Championship outing, a hard-fought 66-60 win over the SKYCITY Mystics in Dunedin on Sunday.
Taking until the final quarter to push clear and shake a determined challenge from the Mystics, the result leaves the Steel as the only unbeaten team in the competition.
Patience, ball retention, the reliable target of towering shooter Jhanielle Fowler-Reid and the introduction of wily defender Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit turned the tables for the Steel in the second half.
Beset by injury throughout the season and already missing Silver Fern Kayla Cullen, rookie defender Holly Fowler was added to the list after being ruled out with a foot injury. That meant a first start for Michaela Sokolich-Beatson at goal defence.
It was the visitors who held the upper hand through the first stanza, the Mystics out of the blocks quickly through crisp and slick delivery on attack.
Wing attack Nadia Loveday formed a productive connection with shooter Cathrine Tuivaiti, who found plenty of space to hold sway under the hoop. At the other end, in-form goalkeeper Anna Harrison was a disruptive presence, getting her hands on early turnovers to help the Mystics forge a 16-13 lead at the first break.
The Mystics stretched out to a six-goal advantage on the resumption, a lift in defence and a quicker service to sharp shooter Fowler-Reid helping the southerners chip into the deficit.
The stanza continued to ebb and flow, the Mystics giving up handy leads on several occasions before the Steel hit the front for the first time late in the piece. The Mystics got one back on the stroke of halftime to leave the scores all tied up at 33-all after a lively opening half.
After both teams made defensive changes for the second half, it was the Steel who broke the deadlock midway through the third stanza. Capitalising on turnovers, the southerners scored five unanswered goals to leap out to a three-goal lead.
Steel defender Selby-Rickit helped slow the supply at the other end, but the Mystics could not be completely shaken with Tuivaiti, Loveday and Harrison continuing to make a mark.
In an even contest, a thrilling run to the line was ensured when the Steel went to the last break with a slim 49-48 lead.
photo Cheltenham jockey club
photo Cheltenham Racecourse