Stars stay top after late surge proves decisive
Forced to dig deep, the Robinhood Stars eventually shook off a dogged Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel to clinch a 53-43 win and retain their place at the top of the table in Dunedin on Saturday.
Losing key strike weapon George Fisher to a head knock just before three-quarter time did not do the Steel any favours but the gutsy southerners still made their opponents work for their keep. Without the threat of England shooter Fisher, the Stars made the most of the opportunity to power home in the last quarter.
None was more influential than imposing Stars defender and Player of the Match Anna Harrison, who delivered a masterclass as she applied non-stop pressure to provide a torrid outing for the opposing shooters.
Both teams presented with settled, well-performed starting line-ups, the match-up between Fisher, the league’s most accurate shooter, and stalwart defender Harrison, an eagerly-anticipated individual clash.
Staunch defensive efforts at both ends of the court stifled any chance of a free-flowing game with a lack of volume coming into the shooting circles resulting in a low-scoring opening stanza. The home side had their noses in front early but increasingly, the long reach of the ever-competitive Harrison had an impact.
Neither side found any rhythm, the ball swinging back and forth with little action under the hoops as conversion rates also took a hit.
A buzzer-time goal from Tiana Metuarau pushed the Steel to a tenuous 10-9 lead the first break.
The Stars came to play on the resumption, scoring the first two goals to set the tone. The defensive stoush continued but it was the visitors’ who benefitted most as Harrison, Elle Temu and Lisa Mather got the upper hand on their southern rivals.
The shooter-to-shooter exchanges between Maia Wilson and Jamie Hume clicked into gear on the back of the efficient flow on attack provided by Gina Crampton as the Stars enjoyed more ball in etching out a six-goal advantage.
A lack of volume counted against the Steel shooters with Fisher and Metuarau having all sorts of problems against the Stars relentless defensive exploits.
Stepping it up on attack and showing more flow and accuracy, it was an improved Stars who hit the main break with a 26-22 lead, the Steel staying in the contest after delivering a late productive surge.
Showing plenty of their renowned tenacious spirit, it was the Steel’s turn to show what they’re made of during a dramatic third stanza. While the hustle and bustle continued unabated in the contest, four goals in a row helped the home side narrow the deficit to just two.
Fisher and Metuarau had a strong impact in the Steel circle while the side’s through-court transition was much improved as they regained the lead for the first time since the first quarter. However, the Harrison influence could not be discarded, the rangy defender picking up a vital turnover to give the lead back to the Stars.
There was a delay late in the piece as Fisher and Temu were required to undergo concussion checks after a nasty collision. Both were forced from the court with Kiana Pelasio, in her first court time of the season, taking over from Fisher and Oceane Maihi for Temu.
At three-quarter time, the Stars had nudged into a 36-34 lead as the Steel were left to ponder the big adjustment needed in their re-jigged shooting line.