Steel holds on to keep playoff hopes alive

The season was in the balance as Bailey Mes lined up her final shot.

The Southern Steel led by one goal, the clock showing 41 seconds remaining, as the Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic goal attack let the ball fly over a frantically jumping Kate Burley.

The ball soared upwards as every Steel fan — and probably player too — held their breath.

Then it dipped, way too short.

From there the Steel worked the ball to George Fisher and the English shooter closed out the game.

The Steel could breathe again.

It had escaped with a 51-49 win over the Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic in Rotorua last night.

With that it pulled to within six points of the top three — a game still in hand, with opportunities to win points off the Central Pulse and Northern Stars in Invercargill still remaining.

A loss would have made that deficit very difficult to pull in.

Perhaps it should have been more comfortable.

It was a game the Steel seemed to be in control of for large portions.

Every quarter it would go on a run to open up a small lead, notably pulling out to a five-goal margin in the third quarter.

At times the connection between Shannon Saunders and Fisher was exquisite.

However, every time the Magic hit back with a late-quarter run.

Indeed it was the first time in ANZ Premiership history every quarter finished even.

It looked as though the Magic would do what the Pulse and Mainland Tactix did in the past two games, and edge past the Steel in the final quarter.

Ameliaranne Ekenasio put it ahead on the initial centre pass, before a rare miss from Fisher gave the Magic a 44-41 lead.

But the Steel was energised by Burley.

She showed her ability to hustle in chasing a ball down and knocking it back in over her head, as well as her smarts and reactions to come up with a crucial deflection on an inner circle from Mes to Ekenasio.

It was a slightly-too-long pass down court from Mes, to wing attack Simmon Wilbore, that gave the Steel its final lead.

Wilbore chased it down, but was unable to maintain balance and was called for footwork.

Hannah Ridling looked to have got a hand in to stop Saunders' feed to Fisher.

But the ball deflected on to the post, bouncing up into Fisher's hands.

It was perhaps a stroke of luck, although after the undoubted impact Covid-19 has had on this team perhaps it deserved a moment of luck.

Fisher made it 50-49 and, while a held ball on Georgia Heffernan prevented the Steel capitalising off its centre pass, it was able to make amends off Mes's miss.

The Steel's shooting accuracy proved significant.

It took five fewer shots than its opponent, but the 85% it hit at was 10% higher than the Magic.

Fisher connected on 33 of her 36 attempts and was ably supported by goal attack duo Saviour Tui and Heffernan, who both finished with 9/12.

ANZ Premiership

The scores

Steel 51

George Fisher 33/36, Saviour Tui 9/12, Georgia Heffernan 9/12

Magic 49

Ameliaranne Ekenasio  27/33, Bailey Mes 22/32

Quarter scores: 14-14, 26-26, 38-38.

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