Steel steal close win over Pulse
Faced with her first media interview in a Steel dress, Courtney Elliott was more nervous about the prospect than she was about taking on the competition-leading Pulse at ILT Stadium Southland tonight.
The Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel defender put in another big shift at the back against the Pulse’s robotic shooting squad in Steel's 51-47 victory.
And while it was her stopping partner Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit who was deservedly named the player of the match for a performance which included four intercepts and a couple of rebounds, Elliott’s two intercept turnovers in the closing minutes proved the difference between two teams who could well end up facing each other in the final.
It’s a long way from the ruptured Achilles which ruined her 2017 season, or the Waikato/Bay of Plenty Beko team which Steel coach Reinga Bloxham plucked her out of after the late injury to Jamaican defender Malysha Kelly.
“It was really intense, really awesome,” Elliott said.
“It’s really exciting to be playing Beko and then to come down here - I’m learning a lot, just gaining as much as I can.”
Elliott has developed a happy knack of gaining vital ball at the back end of games, but she was quick to pass on the praise to Selby-Rickit.
“That’s Hoochie. I thought we got our connections going really early and it paid off.”
Just over a month after being pumped by 31 goals by the same team, this was a determined Steel team which took on the Pulse tonight.
“What a turnaround. To come from that and just really put it out there, the girls are really happy,” Elliott said.
“We (wallowed) in (the loss) for a while. It took quite a bit to recover, but we stepped up and it’s onwards and upwards.”
While it wasn’t a winning return, Pulse’s Southland shooter Aliyah Dunn looked her typically calm self playing in front of friends and family.
She missed a goal after four minutes and then put in a flawless display until replaced in the final quarter with 22 goals from 23 attempts.
While the Steel were ahead at every break, victory was never a given – league leaders the Pulse repeatedly stealing back the lead mid-quarter.
But where the Steel had the upper-hand was on defence - changing their strategy to man-on-man marking to confuse the Pulse, who had dominated last year’s ANZ Premiership champions in their two previous meetings this season (the last by a whopping 31 goals).
The Steel’s circle defence duo of Selby-Rickit and Elliott made the biggest impact, suppressing the Pulse’s outstanding shooters for the first time this season, and dealing out only their second loss of 2018.
A strong defensive game from both sides was reflected in the incredibly low-scoring opening quarter, which was also punctuated by frequent contact calls. Wing defence Karin Berger nabbed two intercepts for the Pulse, while goal defence Selby-Rickit was causing all kinds of problems for the Pulse’s young shooters Dunn and Tiana Metuarau.
The Steel took the lead for the first time with two minutes remaining, and were able to hold it at 12-11 when Te Paea Selby Rickit scored a penalty shot right on the quarter-time buzzer.
The Pulse scored the first three goals of the new spell, but the Selby-Rickit sisters combined to bring it back to level again.
Eventually the Pulse began to grind their way through the Steel’s smothering defence and deliver to their shooters, to open the gap to four. Still not quite where they wanted to be, the Pulse brought Ameliaranne Ekanasio on at goal attack just before halftime.
But the Steel proved they could do just the same and with a run of three goals, snatched back the lead 26-25 at the break.
The Pulse were asked to produce composure and control in the second half, but it wasn’t until the end of the quarter that they found it. The Steel had stretched out to a four-goal advantage - goal keep Elliott doing a sterling job of restricting Dunn’s options – but again the Pulse bounced back to be level-pegging, following a series of telling intercepts.
No one, though, would have been daring enough to discount the Steel, revved up by a record home crowd, and sure enough they were ahead, 43-39, going into the final quarter.
With five minutes left, there was only one goal in it, thanks to a vital intercept by Pulse captain Katrina Grant.
But the teamwork of Elliott and Selby-Rickit, backed up by their midcourt defence, ensured the Steel remained in control at the final whistle.
Official Result and Stats:
Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel: 51
Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse: 47
Shooting Stats - Steel:
Jen OÇonnell 30/37 (81%)
Te Paea Selby-Rickit 21/28 (75%)
Shooting Stats - Pulse:
Aliyah Dunn 22/23 (96%)
Tiana Metuarau 14/20 (70%)
Ameliaranne Ekenasio 11/12 (92%)
MVP: Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit (Steel)