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The Southern Steel rode a fantastic first-quarter performance to victory over the Northern Mystics in Auckland yesterday.
It led 20-13 early in the second quarter and went on to claim a 63-58 win, closing the gap on the ANZ Premiership’s second-placed Mystics.
That was a complete contrast to the last time the sides met.
On that occasion, the Mystics got the better start, which proved the difference.
It continued the Steel’s trend of winning and losing on alternate weeks this season.
While at times the Mystics made mini-comebacks, the Steel attack for the most part was reliable and operated well.
The shooting duo of George Fisher and Tiana Metuarau was outstanding, finishing on 47/52 and 16/19 respectively.
Renee Savai’inaea and Kate Heffernan traded bibs to line up at centre and wing defence respectively.
It was a move that worked well and was key early on in helping to limit the ball dangerous Mystics shooter Grace Nweke got.
While she still finished with 52 goals, she managed just 11 at 100% in the first quarter, which was telling.
Taneisha Fifita was key in that regard to, the Steel goal keep having a stand out performance which included four intercepts.
Doing that while avoiding the cautions she has picked up in the past two weeks was key and a sign of progress without losing her effectiveness.
Despite the strong first quarter, there was an ominous first two minutes which proved to be a false warning.
The Mystics quickly shot out to a 3-0 lead as the Steel attacking end took a few minutes to connect.
From that point, though, the first quarter was all Steel.
Its defence worked well right through the court and put pressure on the Mystics trying to get the ball to Nweke.
At the other end, it was slick and at times played with the Mystics defence, Shannon Saunders showing all her class and Fisher proving ever-reliable in the shooting circle.
That gave the Steel a 17-11 lead at the end of the first quarter and, while it extended that to 20-13, the Mystics hit back.
They began limiting turnovers and with it, Nweke was able to come into the game more.
She helped them back to within four of the Steel.
However, the Steel attack ensured it maintained a buffer and Fisher shot a perfect 13/13 to keep it ahead 32-26.
The Steel defence again began to force mistakes out of the Mystics attack, helping out to a 37-28 lead.
But the home team tightened up again and the sides traded goals for the next 10 minutes.
The Mystics briefly closed the gap, but went into three-quarter time trailing the Steel 50-43.
That looked safe for most of the fourth until and, with five minutes to go, the Steel led by eight.
However, the Mystics rallied and quickly closed the gap to 60-55.
The Steel showed patience, though, reverting to the possession-based style for which it is well known.
It found Fisher twice, who coolly executed to keep the Steel ahead, before Metuarau closed out the win.
In last night’s other game, the defending champion Central Pulse beat the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic 64-53 in Wellington.