Steel stun Stars to book Elimination Final berth
In a frenetic finish to a game with so much riding on it, the Ascot Park Hotel Steel have secured their spot in the ANZ Premiership Finals Series - their 46-45 victory ending the Robinhood Stars’ dreams of making the top three.
It was do-or-die for the Stars, who had dominated the league in the first half of the season, but the Steel wanted it just as much with a place in the top-three finals guaranteed with a win.
The Steel’s trajectory at the business end of the season continued to rise as they played a disciplined and patient game, while the Stars relied on their most experienced head, Anna Harrison, bringing her best defensive game to keep them in the running.
But it was the shooting statistics that told the final story – the Steel sinking 92 percent of their shots, while the Stars struggled with just 69 percent accuracy.
The Steel made a positive start with the first three goals, but then the long arms of Harrison came into play, successfully disrupting the Steel attack.
With Stars key shooter Maia Wilson again looking shaky under the hoop, Jamie Hume put up some stunning long shots, on the end of some pinpoint long passes from Gina Crampton, to keep in touch with the Steel.
Shannon Saunders marshalled the Steel midcourt, and her shooters, Tiana Metuarau (the eventual MVP) and George Fisher, responded with perfect shooting.
But just as the Steel looked to get a foothold, the Stars struck back with a run of three to tie it up 13-all at the first break.
The Stars shooting jitters continued in the second quarter, under intense scrutiny from Steel defenders Taneisha Fifita and Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit. They were successful with just 63 percent of her shots in the first half.
But their defence kept them in the game, Harrison and Elle Temu snapping up crucial ball when they needed to.
The lead changed rapidly throughout the second quarter, and again it was level 24-all at halftime.
The Steel started strongly scoring the first four goals after the break, patiently threading the ball through court to Metuarau and Fisher, who couldn’t miss a shot. But just when it looked as though they were on a roll, Harrison would again intervene.
The visitors led 37-35 going into the final quarter, and with dogged defence right through the court, stretched out to a five-goal advantage for the first time in the game.
With 10 minutes remaining, Wilson (11 from 21 attempts) was replaced at goal shoot by Monica Falkner, and her injection into the game, with her poise and confidence shooting at all ranges in the circle, lifted the Stars hopes again.
A long penalty shot from Falkner tied the scores again with five minutes left, and they looked as though they could salvage a win. But back-to-back missed goals from the Stars sealed their fate.