IT was a case of better late than never for the Addo Elephants as they somehow burgled their way into the Premier Hockey League (PHL) semifinals with a 5-3 win over the Maropeng Cavemen yesterday.
Going into the weekend, the Elephants had won none of their three games and were rooted to the bottom of the men’s table. But a 6-1 rout of the SA Under-21 side, the Golden Gate Gladiators, suddenly had them in with a chance for a last four place, provided they beat the hitherto on form Cavemen yesterday.
The equation before that game was if they beat the Cavemen by three clear goals they would qualify automatically for the semi-finals at the Mambas’ expense, and if they won by two they would enter a process of elimination that would be decided on matches won, goal difference or goals scored.
The omens weren’t good when they took to the field not long after a downpour on a freezing day at the Randburg Astro. The pitch was waterlogged and made short corners difficult to take as the ball struggled to reach the circle.
This called for a break from which the Elephants emerged with urgency, scoring through Sinoxolo Mbekeni and a Julian Hykes penalty stroke. But then the Cavemen’s Ricky West, who would go on to score a hat-trick, scored the first of his three goals from short corners.
The more they kept getting pegged back the more it looked as if they would fall short, but Rusten Abrahams’ reverse sticks goal gave them hope with five minutes remaining. Enter Richard Pautz, who dribbled his way into the Cavemen’s circle, had his short partially saved by Bernard Greybe, and tapped home the rebound – all with less than a minute left in the game.
The result meant the Elephants advanced on goals scored, having scored four more than the Mambas, and joined the Garden Route Gazelles, the Cavemen and the Gladiators in the semis.
Earlier the Orange River Rafters had narrowly failed to pull the same trick against the Wineland Wings.
Needing to win by five clear goals to advance into the knockout stages, a team that had scored seven goals in their previous four games were suddenly three goals (by Simone Gouws, Nicole Walravena and Lizanne Jacobs) to the good with three-quarters remaining.
Walraven’s second meant they were just one goal from the Promised Land, only for the Winelands to spoil the party through goals by Catherine McNulty and Kaila Flemming. And with that, the Rafters would have to be content with a 4-2 win over a difficult to beat Wings.
The Wings join the Madikwe Rangers – who had cruised to the top of the women’s table courtesy of a goal in each quarter against the Namaqualand Daisies for a 4-0 win – the St Lucia Lakers and the Blyde River Bunters in the semifinals.
With the Daisies’ abject tournament (five defeats from five games) having highlighted their need for more preparation for their trip to the junior World Cup in Chile in two months, the Gladiators’ qualification for the semifinals would have pleased SA Hockey.
Having gone mentally walkabouts in their 6-1 drubbing by the Elephants, the youngsters hung tough to ultimately eliminate the Drakensberg Dragons with their 1-0 over them. When Ryan Crowe scored the opener, many though that was a mere appetiser for more goals in a game simmering with intent.
But stunning performances by goalkeepers Siyavuya Nolutshungu (in the first half) and Rob McKinley after he replaced him meant that was the final score. In all fairness it was a keeper’s game, with Gowan Jones also doing his bit not to let another goal through.
In the last round-robin game, the Lakers shocked the Bunters, who were unbeaten going into the game, by beating them 1-0 to relegate them to third place on a weekend they started top of the table.