A heartbreaking late equaliser ultimately cost Midlands their first National Hockey League women's title in Christchurch yesterday.
Midlands came from behind to lead 3-2 against Central in the final but conceded an agonising equaliser in the last seconds of their encounter that Central won in the second period of extra time.
Coach Hymie Gill was philosophical about the outcome.
"It was a bit frustrating. We played pretty well and you can only ask for that," Gill said.
"Sometimes Lady Luck is not on your side."
Midlands trailed 1-0 at the break to a Piki Hamahona goal but two excellent penalty corner strikes from Clarissa Eshuis early in the second spell put them ahead before a reverse-stick strike from Kayla Sharland drew Central level.
Gemma Flynn looked to have secured the trophy for Midlands with 12 minutes remaining when she flicked home Midlands' third but Central threw themselves forward in desperation as time ticked down.
They forced a last-minute penalty corner that Midlands were unable to clear and when the resulting cross came in, Sharland forced the ball past goalkeeper Sally Rutherford in a melee to send the match into extra time.
Both teams had to drop two players from their line-up for the first six minutes of the extra period but neither could manage the golden goal required to clinch victory until midway through the second spell, when with each side required to field just seven players, Sharland netted her hat-trick from a penalty corner to send her side into raptures and Midlands into despair.
Gill said his side didn't start well.
"We've only got three or four girls who have played in finals before. We were nervous it took us 15 to 20 minutes to settle down," Gill said.
"But we dominated the second period of the first half and the start of the second."
Gill singled out the efforts of English import Chloe Rogers, Eshuis who was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player and Flynn, the tournament's joint topscorer with Sharland, and said the style of hockey and the squad's emphasis on youth stood them in excellent stead.
The Bayleys Midlands men's side saw their hopes of defending their title disappear on Saturday with a 5-2 loss to North Harbour.
"We didn't play well and didn't take our chances," coach Darren Smith said.
"We had three penalties each, they scored from all three and we didn't score from any."
They did get the consolation of third place with a shootout win yesterday over hosts Canterbury.
Midlands led 2-0 and 3-2, with goals from Casey Henwood, Nick Ross and Hugo Inglis, before Canterbury levelled before fulltime. After a scoreless session of extra time, goalkeeper Stephen Graham was the star for Midlands as he saved three penalty strokes.
Promising Junior Black Stick Inglis was equal top-scorer at the tournament with Auckland star Simon Child.
- Waikato Times
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