The New Zealand Under 16 Women won an important pool game on day four of the Australian State Championships in Melbourne on Wednesday.
The Kiwis dominated the closing stages of a tight encounter to record a 68-57 win against South Australia Country.
New Zealand led 50-42 at three-quarter time but three consecutive turnovers at the start of the fourth gave South Australia a leg up to cut the deficit to two points, 52-50.
Following a timeout called by coach Angela Perrott-Hunt New Zealand regained their composure to rattle off a decisive 10-0 run.
Sharne Pupuke-Robati ran the floor for a basket after a Charlisse Leger-Walker defensive block.
Gracie Hasler-Ewin made a short-range basket, as did Pupuke-Robati, with guard Caitlin O’Connell providing a couple of neat assists. Ella Bradley completed the surge with a brace of baskets.
A 62-50 lead with 2:26 to play was too much for South Australia. New Zealand, under the leadership of Leger-Walker, exhibited fine composure down the stretch. The Waikato guard produced a stats stuffing 15 points, 13 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 steals and 3 blocks.
Perrott-Hunt was pleased with the way her team responded after that crucial time-out in the fourth quarter. “I told the players to stay calm and stick with the game plan. I thought they did that admirably. There are always waves to ride and we did that” she said.
Earlier South Australia Country had shaded the opening quarter 20-21 before New Zealand hit back in the second period to lead at half-time 35-29. Jordyn Maddix made a pair of threes at the start of quarter two to give the Ferns a lead they would not surrender.
The teams traded baskets in the third with the trio of Pupuke-Robati, O’Connell and Leger-Walker each making 5 points in the period to keep New Zealand ahead.
The Kiwis weathered the storm in the fourth to finish third in Pool A with a 4-2 record and a quarter-final appointment with Queensland South on Thursday.
The leading scorer in the tournament Shyla Heal, daughter of legendary Australian player Shane Heal, leads Queensland South. As Perrott-Hunt says “Her match up with Charlisse (Leger-Walker) will be well worth watching.”
Tall Ferns head coach Kennedy Kereama spoke to the team following the game. He complimented the team on their performances to date and wished them well for the upcoming play-off action.
NZ Scorers v SA Country: Charlisse Leger-Walker 15/13/6/4/3, Sharne Pupuke-Robati 18/12, Caitlin O’Connell 10, Jordyn Maddix 6, Ella Bradley 8/5, Gracie Hasler-Ewin 9, Isabelle Cook 2,