The Bendigo Bank Spirit caught fire from three-point range late to almost pull off a fighting victory against Townsville in their WNBL clash on Saturday night.
In a physical clash at the Bendigo Stadium, Townsville withstood a furious surge from the Spirit to win 71-69 in the next chapter of what’s become one of the WNBL’s great modern rivalries.
Playing in their pink uniforms in the OTIS Foundation-sponsored game, the Spirit looked cooked when they trailed 63-53 with 4:07 left in the game and the Fire with all the momentum.
To that stage the Spirit had just scored three points in the first 5:53 of the final term, making only one of seven shots, while turning the ball over four times.
Desperately needing to find a spark to ignite, the Spirit got it through the energetic Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe with a steal and fast-break lay-up that brought the crowd back into the game.
And then the Spirit found their radar from three-point range, knocking down four treys through Kelsey Griffin (two), Nadeen Payne and Kerryn Harrington.
With 59 seconds to go, the Spirit had cut the deficit to one, 70-69, and would ultimately have a last-gasp chance to win the game.
The dramatic final minute included a missed three-pointer to Griffin, missed shot to the Fire’s Amy Kame followed by offensive rebound to Suzy Batkovic and then a turnover by Townsville’s Natasha Cloud.
That then gave the ball back to the Spirit with 11 seconds remaining.
However, the Spirit was thwarted in their final play when an attempted Harrington pass to Griffin for the game-winning assist was intercepted by Batkovic, who with 0.2 seconds remaining was fouled.
Batkovic made her first free-throw and then deliberately missed the second as the buzzer sounded on the Fire’s two-point win.
The two-point margin came on the back of the Spirit – who are now 5-3 – leading by one at quarter-time, two at half-time and the Fire by two at three quarter-time.
While the Fire led by as many as 10 in the final term, earlier the Spirit bolted out of the blocks, racing to an 11-2 lead inside first 2:32.
As she has in all eight games so far, Raincock-Ekunwe led the Spirit scoring with 20 points to go with 10 rebounds – her fifth double-double.
Griffin finished with 15 points and seven rebounds, while Payne scored 12.
After already having 10 on the board at quarter-time, Fire superstar Batkovic scored 18 points, while Kame added 16 off the bench.