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MG Mystics 61-52 Win Over Ascot Park Hotel Steel In Invercargill

22 April

Defending champions the MG Mystics held their nerve to triumph, 61-52, over a hugely improved Ascot Park Hotel Steel in the cauldron of ILT Stadium Southland.

Although the Mystics were clinical notching up their second win from two, the Steel were within three goals in the third quarter and didn’t lose energy or enthusiasm at the end of the game despite a string of player changes. The return of former captain Shannon Saunders and a faultless shooting performance from Grace Namana, were the home side’s highlights.

A 92 percent shooting performance from the Mystics and the seamless interchange of their strong bench players allowed them to keep in front throughout and pull away when they needed to.

Less than two minutes into the game, Saunders took the court at wing attack for her first game since having her first child. Her vision and precision passing immediately lifted the confidence of the players around her, and the Steel had a much-improved start to the game than in their opening match (scoring nine more goals than they did in the first quarter against the Tactix a week before).

The Mystics put pressure on the Steel at their centre pass, but when the ball got through to the Steel shooters, Namana and Georgia Heffernan were sure with their shots. Goal shoot Namana, in particular, had her eye in (she ended the game on 100 percent accuracy from her 33 attempts and took out MVP).

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The Mystics started out aggressive on attack, but were sometimes too enthusiastic. Grace Nweke took much of the quarter to find her range, but after the first 15 minutes, the Mystics held the upper hand, 16-13.

Through some dogged defence in the circle from Carys Stythe and Phoenix Karaka, then Catherine Hall, the Mystics extended their lead to seven.

While the Steel midcourt of Saunders and captain Kate Heffernan, who picked up three sharp intercepts in the first half, kept the home side in the game, the shrewdness of Mystic feeders Peta Toeava and Tayla Earle, kept the Steel at arm’s length.

Up 32-25 at halftime, the Mystics upped the ante immediately and pulled out to a double-figure lead for the first time, but the Steel gradually pegged it back. Defenders Abby Lawson and Taneisha Fifita niggled the Mystics into basic errors and kept the defending champions scoreless for a rare three minutes.

Even though Saunders was benched for the second half to manage her heavily strapped knee, with Ivari Christie returning to wing attack, the Steel attack didn’t lose momentum. A great understanding between Namana and Georgia Heffernan whittled the difference down to three, and saw the Steel eventually draw the third quarter.

But it was a run of five goals right at the death of that spell that put the Mystics comfortably back in control, 46-39.

The Steel went through more player changes in the final stanza. Kate Heffernan left the game after three quarters, also managing her ankle injury, with Renee Savai’inaea shifting into centre. Goal shoot Jen O’Connell made her first appearance in the ANZ Premiership since her serious knee injury in 2020, but it unfortunately was a brief one.

Nweke ended the game with 91 percent accuracy, and was well supported by both her goal attacks Filda Vui and Hannah Glen.

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