The Northern Stars upset defending champions Southern Steel in the ANZ Premiership elimination final 53-56, to break a 3-year winning streak for the home side in Invercargill.
Maia Wilson who earlier in the week missed out on Silver Ferns selection, channeled her disappointment into determination and turned out an MVP performance, shooting 43/45 attempts for 96% accuracy.
“We literally started from the bottom and now we are in the grand finals… it wasn’t just me out there tonight, there were eight players on court, our bench and supporters, we’ll be back at training on Friday to prepare for next week,” said Wilson.
Earlier in the week captain Leana De Bruin and Temepara Bailey announced their retirements but both were determined to have one more shot at a title.
“I wasn’t ready to hang up my bib just yet and I’m so proud of our girls tonight, but we’ve got to back it up again on Monday, the job is not done yet.”
The Steel threatened to build an early lead off the back of Stars errors to start the match, but like they did last week after being down 11-1, the Stars settled into their rhythm.
Stars attackers Bailey and Mila Reuelu-Buchanan patiently worked the ball into their shooters Wilson and Charlee Hodges, who converted 93% of their shots on goal in the first quarter to trail 14-15 at the first break.
The Steel jumped out to a six goal lead midway through the second quarter but the Stars refused to back down and pressured the home side into making errors of their own on the back of strong through court defence.
An early ankle injury to de Bruin only seemed to spur on the skipper who with support from Storm Purvis and Kayla Cullen confused attacking space and created turnover ball.
The task was simple, get the ball into the hands of Wilson. Stars attackers worked tirelessly to ensure Wilson and Hodges were delivered quality ball.
Steel wing defence Kate Heffernan was a standout for the home side picking up four intercepts in the first half, helping her side to a 30-27 lead at the main break.
The Stars came out of the half time break hungry and full of fight.
De Bruin, Purvis and Cullen again rallied to restrict the impact of recently selected Silver Ferns Gina Crampton and Shannon Saunders.
Taking a 2 goal lead into the final quarter, the Stars held their nerve down the stretch as the Steel threatened to come back late in the match.
Head Coach Kiri Wills gave credit to her team after a tough week.
“There was a lot of emotions this week but we showed tonight that we deserve our place in the grand final,” said Wills.
Wills added, “I was in town earlier today and a lady said to me the Steel have never lost in Invercargill in the ANZ Premiership, but I knew our team had this performance in them and I’m really proud of their fight.”The Stars travel to Porirua to take on minor premiers the Central Pulse at Te Rauparaha Arena on Monday at 4pm.