Saturday’s CTM Premier Hockey League (PHL) semi-final day saw a case of de javu as the Blyde River Bunters and the Madikwe Rangers set up a repeat of the 2016 final.
That was after their shootout victories over the St. Lucia Lakers and the Orange River Rafters respectively.
The Bunters started their semi-final against the Lakers much on the back foot but managed to keep the score level until half-time.
The Bunters then started the second half in better form than before, the Lakers finally got the lead that their first-half display deserved when they scored through Megan Anderson, the 150th goal in women’s PHL history.
The striker picked up the ball at the top of the D, turned and fired brilliantly past Phumelela Mbande, something that almost seemed impossible with the form of the South African keeper on the day.
The Bunters tried to raise the game in the second half as they looked for the equaliser, but in truth, they were struggling to break the superb defence of the Lakers.
Eventually, they got a penalty corner opportunity, just their second of the game to the five from the Lakers, and in an identical repeat of last week’s game, Carmen Smith fired home the goal that restored parity in the 56th minute.
Ayanga Baleni had a golden chance to settle it for the Lakers in the last minute of the game but fired wide and sent the game to shootouts.
Kara Botes and Tegan Fourie scored for the Lakers, but with Elmien Marais, Izelle Verster and Minke van Heerden scoring for the Bunters, Stephanie Baxter, the first player ever drafted in PHL history, had to score but was unable to beat Mbande, sending the Bunters back to the final.
‘It was an exciting game and we are so happy to make it to the final! Our coaches made the big calls and the right times and all credit to them getting us to the final,’ said player of the match Mbande.
The Rangers were huge underdogs taking on the Orange River Rafters and their task looked even harder when Charne Maddocks put the undefeated defending champions in the lead in the fourth minute.
There was a superb goal-line clearance by Lezaan Jansen van Vuuren but Maddocks was perfectly positioned to tap into an empty net.
Things went from bad to worse for the Rangers when Rafters skipper Sulette Damons made it 2-0 early in the second quarter. Picking up the ball on the baseline Damons created her own space before smashing the ball home.
It was a reminder of why she is so highly feared in global hockey. It had been a perfect first half for the Rafters limiting the Rangers to just one shot at goal.
With nothing to lose the Rangers tried to fight back and Sylvia van Jaarsveldt started the Rangers comeback in the 36th minute, making her the leading all-time scorer in PHL history, with a real poacher’s effort just in front of Cheree Greyvenstein in the Rafters goal.
The Rangers then pulled level, taking advantage of the Rafters’ yellow card and scoring through a slight deflection from Shindre-Lee Simmons. It was a goal they deserved for their best half of hockey in the tournament so far.
The Rangers poured forward with sensational intensity and were unlucky not to win the game in normal time denied by bad luck, poor finishing and Greyvenstein which meant that the second semi-final went to the shootout.
The Rangers won 3-1 with Lisa-Marie Deetlefs, Van Vuuren and Van Jaarsveldt all netting and setting up a repeat of PHL 2016’s gold medal match.
‘We know the Rafters are a great side with good momentum. We had to make big changes at half-time, we got the result in the end and I couldn’t be prouder,’ was what player of the match and captain Deetlefs had to say.
CTM PHL Women’s Semi-Finals
Tivoli Taps Blyde River Bunters 1 Private Property St. Lucia Lakers 1 (Bunters won shootout 3-2)
Italtile Orange River Rafters 2 Top T Madikwe Rangers 2 (Rangers won shootout 3-1)
CTM PHL Women’s Final
Tivoli Tap Blyde River Bunters vs. Top T Madikwe Rangers
In men’s action, the Addo Elephants followed the example of the Rangers and the Bunters in returning to a final for the first time since 2016 with a fantastic 3-1 win over the Garden Route Gazelles.
Having played last weekend, the Gazelles were victorious 3-1 and carried the momentum into the semi-final.
The Elephants were the team who laughed first getting the game’s opening game through Damian Kimfley in the last play of the opening quarter, just after a fantastic save by keeper Matthew Martins.
The finish by Kimfley gave no chance to Nolutshungu who had already made a few telling saves for the Gazelles. It was a half of few great chances with the Gazelles probably shading the stats at half-time.
Based on that, they were probably deserving of their equaliser when it came in the 38th minute through Reece Arendse with a beautifully taken goal. Pierre Bothma had a fine assist, laying off the pass at the right second to put Arendse through.
It was an even game at the end of the third quarter and a game crying out for a moment of magic to settle it. It would come from Kimfley who was fed a ball from Bjorn Sorenson and with a powerful strike on the tomahawk gave the Elephants the lead.
The Elephants managed to score again in the final minute of the game when they won a penalty corner with the Gazelles having taken their keeper off. Tim Guise-Brown finished off clinically to wrap up the game and book a spot in the final.
‘We have a great attacking threat, we shared the love with the goal scoring today and well done to our boys,’ said captain Miguel de Grace, a previous winner with the Maropeng Cavemen.
‘I would love to win a title with my new team too!’
The second semi-final was a repeat of last year’s final as the Dragons took on the double defending champions the Cavemen. The group stage game was a landslide victory for the Dragons, but only the foolish would have predicted a similar scoreline.
There were no goals in the first half, but the Dragons probably had the better half with Andrew Jarvis, Dylan Swanepoel and Richard Pautz calling on saves from Rassie Pieterse, while the Cavemen fired their best shot wide through a PC from Kyle Lion Cachet.
Both sides had produced 15 circle penetrations, further highlighting the tightness of the game.
The biggest crowd of this year’s CTM Premier Hockey League at the Randburg Astro were rewarded with a goal at last when in the 44th minute Bili Ntuli popped up to put the Dragons into the lead.
The South African international is developing a reputation for big goals taken in big games and his team were delighted with the effort.
It was a brilliant reaction finish after the penalty corner was saved. Matt de Sousa controlled exceptionally well before firing in a shot and Ntuli’s touch gave an in-form Pieterse no chance. It was a goal the Dragons deserved in a dominant third quarter.
They extended the lead in the 55th minute with a superb diving finish by Amkelwa Letuka after wonderful work from Chad Caincross. It was a goal coming through superb commitment and it confirmed that for the first time in PHL history, the Cavemen would not lift the trophy on Sunday.
‘We had a good weekend last week and that gave us momentum. We know the Cavemen are a great side and we did enough today. We think we have an upper hand for tomorrow and are excited to be in the final,’ commented an elated Dragons keeper Jethro Eustice.
CTM PHL Men’s Semi-Finals
Kilimanjaro Addo Elephants 3 Garden Route Gazelles 1
Pro Grip Drakensburg Dragons 2 Origins Maropeng Cavemen 0
CTM PHL Men’s Final
Kilimanjaro Addo Elephants vs. Pro Grip Drakensberg Dragons
PHOTOS: Erin Hunter from the St. Lucia Lakers and Elmien Marais from the Blyde River Bunters contest possession (main picture) while Mo Mea from the Drakensberg Dragons evades Kingsley Botes from the Cavemen in PHL semi-final action, by Sean Burke/PHL