Photo/Supplied (Michael Bradley Photography)
A strong fourth-quarter push helped the Northern Stars put the seal on a 48-39 win to end a gritty challenge from the Southern Steel at the Auckland Netball Centre on Saturday.
With the game in the balance at three-quarter time and leading by just two, the Stars turned up the heat in the run home to out-score the Steel 15-8 and secure their second win of the season.
After playing the first of their double-header weekend just 24 hours earlier, the Steel showed plenty of heart to compete gamely for much of the match.
Losing key shooter Jennifer O’Connell to injury the previous night, the Steel had new-faced shooters in Kiana Pelasio and Grace Namana thrown into the fray, both contributing admirably despite their lack of experience.
Shooter Maia Wilson was an individual standout for the Stars, her return of 36 goals from 39 attempts showcasing her contribution.
Suddenly finding herself as the senior shooter, Trinidad and Tobago import Kalifa McCollin was moved back to goal shoot while young Dunedin shooter Pelasio was elevated to the starting seven after making her debut 24 hours earlier, filling in for the final 55 seconds when O’Connell was forced off.
For the Stars, Lisa Mather got the nod at wing defence to gain her second start of the season.
Forced to play a different type of game due to their new-look shooting circle, it took the Steel time to adjust allowing the Stars to take full advantage. Showing slick transition through the court with Jamie Hume finding her target of Wilson under the hoop with slick efficiency while livewire centre Mila Reuelu-Buchanan was busy at both ends of the court.
A six-goal scoring streak pushed the Stars out to a handy lead before the Steel replied with three of their own to get them back in the contest. After finding her groove, McCollin came into her own through athleticism and accuracy as the southerners chipped into the deficit, leaving the Stars with a narrow 12-11 lead at the first break.
It was goal-for-goal on the resumption, the Stars slick through-court play helping them sneak further ahead and looking to push on.
Required to be a little more patient, the Steel stayed within touching distance with the experienced heads of midcourters Shannon Saunders and Gina Crampton getting through a big workload.
With McCollin taking control for the Steel and Wilson doing a similar job at the other end, both key shooting weapons were standouts for their teams as the Stars edged to a 24-20 lead at the main break.
Goal defence Abby Erwood was introduced at goal defence for the Steel with Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit moving to goalkeeper in the third quarter but again, it was the Stars who had the early momentum. A model of consistency with her movement and accuracy, Wilson was to the forefront as the Stars pulled out to a six-goal advantage.
But as is their trademark, the Steel refused to buckle and staged a stirring revival. With six minutes remaining in the quarter, Namana faced a baptism of fire when introduced at goal shoot, in her debut, for the southerners with McCollin moving out to goal attack.
After letting a handy lead evaporate in their last outing against the Magic and having to settle for a draw, the Stars were left nervously looking over their shoulders when taking a tenuous 33-31 lead into the last break.
Official Result and Stats:
Northern Stars: 48
Southern Steel: 39
Shooting Stats - Stars:
Maia Wilson 36/39 (92%)
Jamie Hume 12/15 (80%)
Shooting Stats - Steel:
Kalifa McCollin 27/29 (93%)
Grace Namara 6/8 (75%)
Kiana Pelasio 6/10 (60%)
MVP: Maia Wilson (Stars)