THEY say timing is everything, and few of the Addo Elephants players will contradict that as they somehow find themselves in the final of the inaugural Premier Hockey League (PHL).
Going into last weekend the Elephants had yet to win a game in this competition and, after righting that with a 6-1 schooling of the Golden Gate Gladiators, they were five minutes from elimination against the Maropeng Cavemen, needing two goals in the last five minutes to pip the Mapungubwe Mambas for a spot in the final four.
Two goals in the midnight hours of the game later and they were in the semifinals as the last qualifiers into the knockout stages, meaning they were up against the formidable and table-topping Garden Route Gazelles.
To date, the Gazelles have, thanks to their ability to find a way to win games whatever the situation, been one of the most difficult teams to beat in the PHL. But the Elephants were dangerous simply because they were the form team at the right time.
Predictably it was the Gazelles who took the lead, through Keenan Horne as early as the second minute. But it was anything but service as usual as the understated but impressive Sinoxolo Mbekeni got the faintest of touches on a Julian Hykes cross to equalise for the Elephants.
During that time, Hykes – all invention and clever through balls – was giving the Gazelles all kinds of trouble but there were no takers for his assists. The pressure finally told in the third quarter when Damian Kimfley scored their second to put them in the lead.
This finally woke the Gazelles up, who got a penalty stroke in the final quarter but saw it missed by – of all people – Lloyd Norris-Jones. Horne thought he’d equalised just a minute later, but the goal was turned down on referral owing to obstruction outside the D.
And with that, the Elephants had booked their place alongside the Maropeng Cavemen in tomorrow’s final, beating a team that stuck them away 8-2 in the round-robin stages.
The Gazelles’ defeat ruined what would have been a double celebration for Keagan Robinson, who earlier had proposed (and was thankfully accepted) by the Blyde River Bunters’ Kylie Oosthuizen, whose team did advance into the final.
Qualifying for the final had been a fitting reward for the Bunters’ championship style play – they had by far been the most difficult team to beat in the competition.
And so they proved by putting two unanswered goals, through Lauren Nina and Nicolene Terblanche in the first and final quarters, past the St Lucia Lakers to book their spot in the final.
The Bunters play the competent Madikwe Rangers, who finished first in the round-robin stages but were a little off-colour in their goalless draw against the Wineland Wings, who still have not lost in regulation time in the tournament.
That record is made somewhat hollow by the fact that they had played in three shootouts and lost all three, so imagine their horror when they found themselves in another one. Worse yet, how terribly would they have felt when they lost that one 3-2 this time?
It was a case of finding out that history has a nasty habit of repeating itself when they saw Lisa Deetlefs, Bernadette Coston and Frances Carstens score their goals in their shootout. Granted, Robyn Johnson and Ilse Davids nailing their attempts meant it wasn’t the usual capitulation, but when Kaila Flemming missed the jinx had struck again.
And speaking of history doing its thing, the competitive SA Under-21 side, here as the Golden Gate Gladiators, had to put up with another narrow loss to the Cavemen. Having given up a 2-0 lead to go down 3-2 in the group stages, they again went down narrowly yesterday.
The Cavemen, anxious not to allow the youngsters a foot in the door like the last time, had scored first through James Drummond in the third minute. But the response was as swift as it was impressive, with Ryan Julius diving full stretch to turn in Khumo Mokale’s diagonal ball.
With both teams throwing caution to the wind, it was a surprise there wasn’t another goal until Brynn Cleak broke the deadlock in the third quarter. This was after Reza Rosenburg had dispossessed Tylo Remke in his own half and had been on hand to make the scoring pass.
Sunday’s other fixtures, for the men and women’s third and fourth place play-offs, see the Lakers up against the Wings and the Gladiators up against the Gazelles. Those games are at 12pm and 2pm, with the finals at 4pm and 6pm.