The Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel has claimed its first Aussie scalp with a gutsy 36-35 win over the NSW Swifts in Melbourne this morning.
The victory rates as the team's first across the ditch since the ANZ Championship's inception in 2008 and, while only pre-season, banishes a long-standing bogey.
On the back foot for the majority of the clash, a dominant third quarter saw the Steel venture back within striking distance and finally snatch victory in the dying stages.
There's no denying the impact the injection of Jamaican shooter Jhaniele Fowler at halftime had on the result. Missing just one of her 21 attempts under the post for an impressive 95 percent statistic, the 1.98m international hauled in some seemingly impossible high balls.
After trading goals initially, the Steel struggled to penetrate the relentless defensive efforts of the Swifts and faltered on attack as a result, trailing 6-10 at the break.
A low-scoring second spell reflected the defensive intensity of both teams, with Steel goal keep Sulu Tone-Fitzpatrick particularly fierce. Her tireless efforts earned a raft of possession and eventually prompted the introduction of Australian Diamond shooter Susan Pratley in an attempt to combat her effectiveness.
Facing a 16-11 deficit at halftime, coach Janine Southby reshuffled her own personnel and a distinctly hungrier Steel emerged.
The frenetic pace suited the midcourt combination of Shannon Francois, Phillipa Finch and Wendy Frew, while Jodi Brown provided a calming influence on attack.
The Steel clawed the margin back to 25-26 leading into the decider and immediately drew level when play resumed.
Finally edging ahead with just four minutes remaining, the pressure was palpable but Steel retained its composure. The Swifts pounced yet again to lock it up before Fowler sunk the match-winner as the seconds ran down.
In its final game of the inaugural Melbourne Vixens Summer Challenge this afternoon, the Steel face the West Coast Fever.
- The Southland Times
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