After a quick turnaround, Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel held their nerve to post a hard-fought 49-47 win over a tenacious Robinhood Northern Stars at the Auckland Netball Centre on Sunday.
In unfamiliar territory at the bottom of the table, the Steel had to wait until their fourth match before securing their first win of the season in a tight and tense contest.
The Steel won the first and fourth quarters, the match hanging in the balance at three-quarter time when the scores were all tied up. The injection of hard-nosed wing defence Kendall Corkery for the last quarter had real impact as the Steel honed in on their traditional style of safety first while exerting big defensive pressure.
The experienced heads of Gina Crampton and Shannon Saunders steadied the Steel ship on attack while the accuracy of shooters Jennifer O’Connell (32/36) and Trinidad & Tobago import Kalifa McCollin (14/15) proved the difference in the end.
The Stars had their moments and competed gamely to keep the score close throughout but were undone by a slow start which left them in chase mode from go to whoa.
There were no surprises in either starting line-up with the Steel’s opening seven remaining unchanged when backing up 24 hours after their narrow loss to the Northern Mystics.
Growing from their previous outing, the Steel couldn’t have asked for a better start, the southerners getting away to a flyer. Finding their attacking connections early in the piece, a run of six straight goals while holding the Stars to just two in the opening five minutes set the tone.
Saunders and Crampton found an easy passage to well-positioned goal shoot O’Connell while athletic fellow shooter McCollin revelled in the space with her play-making skills.
Struggling on their first phase play, the Stars took time to warm into their work but found their groove late in the piece. However, they were unable to prevent the Steel taking a high-scoring 15-10 lead at the first break with O’Connell and McCollin returning perfect shooting records.
In-circle defenders Storm Purvis and Kate Burley helped their team get away to the perfect start as the Stars slotted the first four goals on the resumption.
Reducing the margin to just one, both teams went toe-to-toe before the Stars producing a couple of threatening surges. After a slow start, shooter Maia Wilson was given more opportunities under the hoop but the Stars shooting pair had their work cut out against Steel defenders Te Huinga Selby-Rickit and Taneisha Fifita.
The Steel were left looking over their shoulders when the Stars cut their half-time deficit to a 26-23 lead.
Steel goal attack Georgia Heffernan and goal defence Abby Erwood were introduced for the third quarter, the tight and tense contest remaining for the following 12 minutes.
Both teams enjoyed telling little runs, the Steel unnerved a little when Georgia Heffernan was forced from the court late in the quarter. The Stars continued to chip away, defensive pressure creating turnovers while Wilson and Jamie Hume continued to pot goals at the other end.
Inching to within one with a minute to go, the Stars got the job done with seconds remaining, ensuring an exciting run to the line when they levelled the scores up at 36-all heading into the last quarter.
The Steel have now secured 4 points for their win, while the Stars take a bonus point for being within 5 goals or less.