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But the Southern Steel showed a ton of grit in its 54-49 loss to the Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic in Invercargill tonight.
While it was not the result the Steel were after, it was the team’s best performance of the season so far, also securing them a bonus point.
The Steel were better right across the court — more care on attack, more hunting on defence and more cohesion in their connections to keep the scoreline tight the whole way.
But the Magic ground it out, keeping the ball tight and rarely giving the Steel an opportunity to get hands on to the ball.
Coach Reinga Bloxham settled for the line-up that finished last week’s game, with Ivari Christie at wing attack, Kate Heffernan in the middle and Sam Winders back to her familiar spot at wing defence.
There was more intensity at the outset from the Steel with more pressure across the court.
A box defence made it harder for the Magic to get the ball quickly in the circle.
Players treasured the ball more on attack, never afraid to re-set at the transverse line, and the Steel followed, also treasuring the ball more than in previous games.
Saviour Tui had a good front hold at the back, dominated the middle channel and was strong on the take.
She and Georgia Heffernan combined nicely, had good shooter-to-shooter offloads and appeared more settled.
The Magic made a run in the final minutes of the quarter and led by two.
The visitors were not flashy in their work and had good patience but punished at the post with Silver Ferns captain Ameliaranne Ekenasio and Bailey Mes shooting on 100% in the first half.
Winders was a good link through the middle, bringing the ball down court for the Steel, and Christie, in only her second start, was calm, filling the gaps where needed and supporting her shooters on the circle edge.
But it was the final five minutes — again — where the Steel had lapses and let the Magic push out to a 28-24 lead at halftime.
Eseta Autagavaia entered the game in the third quarter — with Tui still on managed minutes — and provided a good target at the back, taking some massive rebounds.
When the Steel’s defensive end worked as a unit, it started to pick up ball.
It forced the Magic into mistakes, flooded the outside channels and Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit and Kate Burley each picked up crucial intercepts.
The Steel reversed the final minutes of the first two quarters and stuck with the Magic to claw the score back, 40-38 — the highest third quarter finish for the Steel all season.
Tui returned in the fourth quarter and Erena Mikaere and Georgia Takarangi double-teamed to try and stop the flow in to her.
Magic had the better of the fourth quarter early, sneaking out to a five goal lead.
The Steel had the opportunity to bring back the score — Burley pulled in a big rebound, Kate Heffernan nabbed an intercept but the Steel failed to execute when it mattered most.