A “gutted” Southern Steel will use their disappointing end to the 2019 ANZ Championship season as a catalyst to bounce back in 2020. The Steel suffered a heart breaking 56-53 loss to the Northern Stars last week in the elimination final, drawing their season to a close.
It was the first time in 1047 days the Southern Steel had lost a game at their home fortress of ILT Stadium in Invercargill, with their last previous loss also coming in a must-win final in 2016.
Despite the disappointing end to the season, Steel coach Reinga Bloxham said there were still positives to take out of the season.
“I think as a team we’ve grown immensely. I was really proud of the second half of the season. I felt that we didn’t rest on our laurels and we just kept pushing ourselves and driving for better performances. Apart from tonight I think we had done that really consistently in the second half of the season. I think we’ve had some players that have really come on this year which has been absolutely fantastic.”
The Steel went into the elimination final as heavy favourites having won their last seven games of the season and their last 16 at home in Invercargill. The Stars meanwhile entered their first ever ANZ Championship finals series having limped into the playoffs losing seven of their last eight games, including last Wednesday night to the Steel.
It was a tense match from the outset, with both sides firing shot for shot early on with the lead never extending past five goals in the first half. The Steel led at both quarter-time and half-time, before a late third-quarter surge saw the Stars take a 43-41 lead into the final quarter.
They then blew open the game early in the fourth quarter, scoring six unanswered goals to lead 48-41 with 10 minutes remaining. South African star goal shoot Lenize Potgieter was subbed back into the game for the Steel and was able to close the gap to two goals, but the Stars held strong to take home a famous victory in front of a stunned local crowd.
A “gutted” Steel co-captain Gina Crampton said her team just didn’t play to its full capability on the night.
“We were up at half-time and then plummeted quite poorly and then I think we left our run a bit late in the fourth quarter. They’re not an easy team to get the ball off. We definitely didn’t play our best. They were potentially hungrier than us. It was just a massive let down.”
The loss also was extra disappointing for the Steel who were celebrating co-captain Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit’s 100th game.
Bloxham said the loss would make the side hungrier going into 2020.
“This is really going to hurt us for a while. We’ll just have to use it for motivation next season,” she said
This article was originally written for The Advocate. You can read the published version here