Johannesburg – South Gauteng (Southerns) recovered from their first loss of this year's Interprovincial Hockey Tournament (IPT) on Thursday, to book their place in the final after a nervy 5-3 victory over the South African under-21 side in Johannesburg on Friday afternoon.
With the group stages a thing of the past, Friday's action saw teams competing for final placings and playoff spots ahead of the last day's play on Saturday, culminating in the two semi-finals late in the afternoon.
The South African juniors drew first blood as Lillian de Villiers scored through a moment of individual brilliance and fired past Southerns goalkeeper Sanani Mangisa, leaving the shot-stopper helpless at her near post.
Veteran SA striker Pietie Coetzee cancelled out De Villiers's opener when she scored a penalty four minutes later, allowing Southerns to ease into the contest and settle into their structured play.
Southerns took the lead a short while later and Coetzee could have secured her hat-trick before the break, but was twice denied by the uprights as SA took advantage of their good fortune to draw level five minutes from the interval.
The second half took some time to come to life but Coetzee finally bagged her second of the day as she was the first to score in the second period, after a clinical back-stick effort, giving the favourites the lead once more with 22 minutes left to play.
After the disappointment of the first half, Coetzee netted her third 20 minutes from time, before slotting home her fourth less than two minutes later as Southerns extended their lead to three and leaving the SA under-21s with a mountain to climb.
The juniors launched a spirited comeback and were rewarded in the 63rd minute after a scramble in the Southerns area left an unmarked Demi Du Toit space to rocket home from close range.
In the first semi-final, Western Province scored three first-half goals to help the defending champions to a surprise 3-2 win over North Gauteng (Northerns) to progress to Saturday's final.
Northerns came back fighting in the second period, scoring twice to keep their hopes of a final alive, but WP held firm and did enough to hold on for a frantic last five minutes and see out the remainder of the contest to reach their second successive final.
Northerns went into the match as favorites after beating title hopefuls and neighbours Gauteng South (Southerns) on Thursday in their final pool B clash, but will have to be content with a third/fourth place finish as they meet fellow losing semi-finalists, the SA under-21s.
In other results, Amathole recovered to edge the Kwa-Zulu Natal (KZN) Mynahs 3-2, while North West enjoyed a totally dominant afternoon as they ran out 3-0 winners against Free State.
Meanwhile, Eastern Province and the KZN Raiders could only be separated by penalties after the scores were locked at 2-2 after full-time.
Eastern Province eventually got the advantage and kept their heads to win the shootout 3-2 and meet North West to determine the fifth/sixth playoff classification fixture.
KZN were unlucky to come up short and will battle it out for seventh/eighth place against Free State on the final day off the tournament.
Wits University were totally dominant as they thrashed KZN Inland 6-0, with striker Alex Fenwick scoring a superb hat-trick to secure their place in the ninth/tenth playoff where Amathole await, while KZN Inland take on fellow Natal outfit Mynahs to decide 11th and 12th. – Sapa