Southern Steel left to rue what may have been

NATHAN BURDON
Last updated 05:00 02/06/2014
southern steel
ROBYN EDIE/ Fairfax NZ

SAYING THANKS: The Southern Steel players salute the crowd after a 65-64 win over the Melbourne Vixens on Saturday night.

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Southern Steel are ruing a slow start to their season, which cost them a shot at this year's playoffs in the trans-Tasman league.

The Steel caused a significant boilover on Saturday night when they beat competition favourites the Melbourne Vixens in a 65-64 last-minute thriller in Invercargill.

It was the Ascot Park Hotel-sponsored team's seventh victory of the 2014 season, one better than last year and one win away from qualifying for the semifinals for the first time since 2010.

But even before the Steel start their post-season review this week, they will know that three losses at the start of the season, and only two wins in their first seven games, left them with too much ground to make up over the second half of the season.

The Steel won five of their past six games, including four in a row to finish the campaign.

Steel vice-captain Wendy Frew, who had a massive game against the Vixens, said beating such a strong team had its frustrations.

"It's outstanding. It's just a bugger we didn't get a win earlier on and we could have been vying for the top four, but that's how sport goes.

"It was nice to finish with a win but we'd love to be playing in the next few weeks," she said.

"We finished so strong, four in a row, which is pretty good at this level, where it's tough to get a win.

"For us to finish strong, hopefully the girls will stay together and we can come out firing and know that we need to start the season better next year."

Steel coach Janine Southby, who is expected to sign with the franchise again for next year, hopes the success of the past month will be a springboard for next season.

"We can sit here tonight and go ‘if only, if only' but the last four games they've answered every question asked of them and that's the start of that belief, I hope." Southby was proud of the way her team stuck to the game plan they had prepared for the Vixens.

"That belief, knowing we had prepared for what they were going to bring to us. They absorbed the pressure, it was pretty intense and physical, and the body on body stuff is tiring," she said.

"They just adapted when they needed to and they looked after the ball.

"The other key was they got turnover ball to the goal and that's one of the key things in the game now - if you can get your turnover ball to the goal and score from it, you give yourself a really good chance of winning."

Frew said the Vixens result, in front of Steel's biggest crowd of the season at almost 2900, was very satisfying.

"It's a huge result; the last few minutes were so intense. We knew the whole game they could come back, because they are such a great side. A win at home against the Vixens is massive," Frew said.

Leading by five goals going into the final quarter, the Steel scored the last goal of the game and got a breaking call as the Vixens tried to level with 10 seconds left on the clock.

"The thing for us is we had the pass and we knew we couldn't score too quickly or they would get the ball back," Frew said.

"We probably scored it a bit faster than we would have liked but obviously you want to get it in there because otherwise they can turn it over and have the lead. We knew to stick to the basics, which we'd done well the whole game."

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nathan.burdon@stl.co.nz

- The Southland Times

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