In the midst of creating a new ANZ Premiership record, the Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel grabbed a last-gasp 51-49 win over a gallant Splice Construction Magic in a tantalising contest in Rotorua on Wednesday night.
In a unique situation, where the scores were level at the end of each quarter (14-14, 26-26 and 38-38) for the first time in the league’s history, the Steel kept their season alive after scoring the decisive goal with just over a minute to go.
In an uncompromising outing which could have gone wither way, the match hung delicately for 60 minutes.
Showing their growth, the Magic, playing their third game in five days, pushed all the way and largely had the better of the run home with opportunities to nail back-to-back wins. However, the Steel renowned for their tenacity, took their chance when it came late in the piece and defended with their lives to keep the Magic at arms-length.
Coming back from injury, goal defence Georgia Tong got her first start in recent weeks while shooters Ameliaranne Ekenasio and Bailey Mes continued their growing connection under the hoop for the Magic.
For the Steel, training partner Kate Hartley slotted in at wing defence for an injured Renee Savai’inaea in an otherwise familiar line-up.
With the first blow of the whistle, umpire Kristie Simpson created another piece of history when taking charge in a record-breaking 120th national league match, the sides playing their part in providing all the ingredients of a tight, closely-contested and absorbing match-up.
The Steel were out of the blocks quickest, skipping out to an early lead on the back of the patience, reliability and control from wing attack and skipper Shannon Saunders while shooter George Fisher’s timing, accuracy and positioning was first-class.
Ekenasio and Mes showed good movement to provide openings under the Magic hoop, Mes having more success from long range, a late surge from the home side helping to leave the scores all-square at the first break.
There was more of the same on the resumption, both teams showing plenty of intent but unable to fully stamp their authority.
The Steel were a little more accurate on their transitional play while the Magic got stuck at times with laboured forward momentum.
With defenders Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit and Kate Burley playing prominent roles in helping create turnover opportunities, the Steel threatened on numerous occasions to wrest control when building little buffers but the Magic showed plenty of grit to stay in touch.
In a similar pattern to the first quarter, several Magic surges late in the piece ensured the contest remained on a knife-edge, the teams unable to be separated when heading into the main break at 26-all.
Mounting defensive pressure paid immediate dividends for the visitors in the opening exchanges of the third quarter, pushing the Steel out to a five-goal buffer. Not to be outdone, the Magic responded with some slick passages of their own, building on their control to string together a momentum-changing few minutes.
For Ekenasio and Mes the shots dropped on a more consistent basis while Mikaere and Hannah Riding provided a staunch and effective wall of defence in the Steel circle.
With all hands to the pump, the Magic produced a rollicking finish to the stanza, an unanswered six-goal scoring streak resulting in the unlikely scenario of the scores being level once again, when the teams went into the last change locked at 38-all.