Steel fight past gritty Silvermoon Tactix

16 July 2018

The Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel had to pull out all stops to help legendary retiring captain Wendy Frew play one more game on her home court, as they shut out a vibrant Silvermoon Tactix, 59-56, in Invercargill tonight.

With a minute left on the clock, the passionate Steel crowd stood and applauded another gutsy, ground-out victory from their team, which cemented the Southlanders in second place as the Finals Series draws closer.

It was that one step nearer to locking in a finals match at Stadium Southland – and everyone knows just how powerful that home environment is for the Steel.

But plaudits had to also go to the Tactix, as they took the game to the Steel and were the more pulsating, self-assured team for much of the first half, setting a breath-taking tempo that caught the home side on the hop. The Tactix never stopped challenging the lead, even in the dying minutes of an exhausting encounter.

With the two tallest shooters in the league at opposing ends of the court, both teams were willing to fire the ball into the circle from the get-go. The initial passes weren’t always on point, and the defenders quickly read the play.

But the Tactix got the early jump, with Jane Watson and Temalisi Fakahokotau sharing five intercepts between them in the first quarter alone, and Brooke Leaver putting some confident, fluid passes in to Ellie Bird’s reliable hands under the hoop.

At four goals down, the Steel attempted to calm down the pace, and revert back to their gritty, more patient style. But still the Tactix had the upper-hand, leading 17-14 at the first quarter break.

The Steel returned to the court with more purpose and drive, and quickly evened the scores at 19-all.

They used the full length and width of the court, and all sets of available hands, to work the ball patiently down to Te Paea Selby-Rickit and Jen O’Connell. Gina Crampton played a major role in the turnaround, working tirelessly around the circle and feeding her shooters to perfection.

As the Steel gathered momentum, and their shooters were more accurate than their rivals, they pushed out to a three-goal advantage, and held it at halftime, 30-27.

The Tactix weren’t prepared to surrender to the Steel, and with some clever vision downcourt, and cloying defence, they drew equal halfway through the third quarter. Just as quickly, the Steel employed the same kind of optimistic passing to reclaim their three-goal lead.

Leaver - wearing a black armband in memory of her grandmother, whose funeral was in Auckland today - put in some stunning long shots and suddenly it was even again.

A crucial intercept by goal keep Courtney Elliott had the home crowd roaring, and contributed to the Steel snatching back the lead, 45-43, at the third quarter’s end.

Again, the Tactix clawed back to equal footing, but couldn’t put their necks in front again. Fakahokotau was their stand-out performer, nabbing seven intercepts and six deflections from the match.

O’Connell and Selby-Rickit, the MVP of the game, both ended with accuracy percentages in the eighties, which ultimately made the difference in the Invercargill thriller.