Defence key as Pulse downs Steel

This time the comeback did not happen.

The Central Pulse got one back over the Southern Steel in last night’s ANZ Premiership final rematch in Wellington.

Unlike that day — when the Steel reeled in a six-goal lead in the dying minutes — the home team held on until the end.

A 54-50 loss ended the Steel’s four-match winning streak and leaves the Pulse unbeaten atop the table.

The Steel started well, but the home side found its groove in the second quarter.

That came via the Pulse’s defensive intensity, which caused the Steel attack to crumble. The goals slowed as the normally dominant midcourt became loose and penalties crept into the Steel attacking circle.

At the other end, the Steel defence stopped coming up with the ball it had been winning and the Pulse attack cashed in.

Ameliaranne Ekenasio led the way, clinically putting away 34 of her 37 attempts at goal.

Steel coach Reinga Bloxham had been happy with the side’s start, but said it then faltered particularly through a ‘‘terrible’’ third quarter.

It was a game from which the Steel would learn plenty, having not come up against a similar opponent this season.

The physicality of the Pulse had been notable, although she also felt at times the Steel was making its own errors.

She agreed the Pulse’s defensive intensity had risen and that had been key.

‘‘They worked really hard to keep us off the circle edge and disconnect us with our shooters.

‘‘So I think at times we lost that punch to the circle edge and just lacked those invisible links, those connections with our shooters, then put ourselves under pressure.

‘‘I thought the Pulse did a really good job of that and we got a bit shaky after that I suppose.’’

The Steel struck the first blow through a Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit intercept at 3-3. Intercepts by Kate Heffernan and Gina Crampton followed, the Steel scoring off each.

It opened a 10-4 gap as its attack picked apart the Pulse’s highly touted defence. The attack was composed and controlled, the Steel patiently working the ball to its shooters.

While the Pulse edged back at times, the Steel held a 17-11 lead at the first break.

The Pulse fought back in the second quarter, slowing down the Steel’s scoring to bring it back to 27-24. Its defensive pressure began forcing mistakes, while attacking penalties also crept into the Steel’s game.

Goal shoot Jennifer O’Connell took the court to start the second half and goal keep Courtney Elliott emerged not long after.

However, momentum remained with the Pulse. Its defence fully took over as it came up with turnover ball and the Steel struggled to get it into the circle.

Karin Burger began to make herself a presence, while Sulu Fitzpatrick and Katrina Rore made penetrating the circle difficult.

The Pulse took the lead six minutes into the quarter and quickly extended that gap to four.

But the Steel hung tough and a Te Paea Selby-Rickit goal left it just two down at the final break.

That became eight midway through the fourth quarter and, while the Steel fought back late, it had left itself too much to do.


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