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Pulse’s unbeaten run ended

Overcoming a slow start, Pulse shooter Aliyah Dunn found her groove to to post an impressive personal haul of 32 goals from 34 attempts against the Steel. Photo: PhotoWellington

May 6, 2019 

The spell has been broken. Keeping their incredible home record intact, the Southern Steel dealt Te Wānanga O Raukawa Pulse their first defeat of the season, 62-52, in the cauldron of ILT Stadium Southland tonight.

After 14 consecutive victories, the Pulse simply could not match the Steel’s intensity and acumen and lost their perfect record on the verge of the finals play-offs. 
The Steel have now won all 15 matches played at home in Invercargill since 2017, and the 2018 ANZ Premiership champions must now feel like their chance of defending the title is a more realistic goal. 
The Steel, who have played three games in five days, showed just how well-conditioned they are – and how valuable a home advantage is to them, more than any other team in the competition. 
After surviving a tough workout from the Magic just over 24 hours earlier, the Pulse made uncharacteristic errors and did not have the same continuity that they have become renowned for this season. 

``It’s always said that you learn more from a loss than you do a win, so it’s probably come at a perfect time for us,’’ Pulse captain Katrina Rore said. ``We just did not bring it at all today which is disappointing because we knew if we’d won it would have meant going straight to the Grand Final.

``Playing the Steel team down here in Invercargill is darn tough and we needed to step up a lot more. They really brought it to us, they changed things up a wee bit and it took us just a bit too long to adjust to that.

``So, we’ll go back, train very hard this week because none of our players are very happy with that. We don’t like to lose, so we’ll remember this feeling and try and make sure it doesn’t happen again.’’

It was a critical 17-11 third quarter win that sealed it for the home side, but what was more impressive was the way they maintained their concentration for the full 60 minutes. They also took the opportunity to introduce a new player, and give their bench crucial court time. 
The Steel defence was impressive from the get-go. Ball wasn’t flying through to Pulse goal shoot Aliyah Dunn, the most accurate shooter in the league, so Ameliaranne Ekenasio put up all of the Pulse’s shots until halfway through the spell. 
At the other end, Steel goal attack Te Paea Selby-Rickit was doing a superb job at setting up Lenize Potgieter, and making her own shots count. It was shaping up as one of their most confident and cohesive games of the season. 
Although the Steel built up a three-goal buffer at one point, the Pulse had got back to within one, 14-13, when the first quarter ended.
Pulse captain Katrina Rore sought treatment on her ankle during the break, but was back on court for the second spell.
Going goal for goal until near the end of the quarter, when the Steel broke away again, this time leading by four. Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit had snatched four intercepts by halftime, always looking to hunt for the ball.
With Potgieter making sure those opportunities were capitalised on (and finishing the game with an outstanding 45 from 47), the Steel had a strong 32-27 lead at halftime. It was only the second time this season that the Pulse had been behind at the halftime break. 
With Gina Crampton (the game’s MVP) and Shannon Saunders in control in the middle, and young wing defence Kate Heffernan helping to cause havoc for the Pulse attack, the Steel’s lead quickly opened up to eight. 
The Pulse needed to instigate change, and brought young goal attack Tiana Metuarau on for Ekenasio. At the same time, Overton re-entered the game, this time to rest Abby Erwood, while Kendall McMinn replaced Heffernan. And suddenly the difference was in double digits.
The Steel led by 11 going into the final quarter, but the Pulse weren’t lying down. They lifted their game, making fewer errors, and closed to within eight. And although the Pulse won the last quarter by one, the Steel remained patient and clear-headed for the confidence-boosting victory. 
Shooting stats

Aliyah Dunn: 32/34 (94.1%)

Ameliaranne Ekenasio: 20/26 (76.9%)

Lenize Potgieter 45/47 (95.7%)
Te Paea Selby-Rickit: 17/21 (81%)
Georgia Heffernan: 0/3 (0%)

MVP: Gina Crampton (Steel)