IT goes without saying, there will be plenty at stake when the Bendigo Bank Spirit front up to the Dandenong Rangers on Saturday night.
There is a lot more than usual riding on the result of the clash at Dandenong Stadium.
It’s a chance for the Spirit to put a serious dent in the Rangers’ finals aspirations.
At the same time the Spirit can shore up their own prospects of a top-two finish.
The Spirit momentarily leap-frogged the Rangers into fourth position with a smart win against the Sydney Uni Flames in Bendigo last week.
Dandenong wrested back a position in the top four after a hard-fought battle against the Melbourne Boomers on Australia Day eve.
The rivals enter the clash with similar 12-7 records.
The season series will be on the line with the two proud clubs splitting their two earlier season contest.
A win would be a tremendous boon for the Spirit, who would hold the series advantage over all but one of its five rivals still in contention for finals, with a decider against Sydney to come on February 19.
It’s a case of deja-vu for the Spirit, according to Simon Pritchard, after they have faced a succession of crucial games since before Christmas.
“There is just nothing that is an easy game and both of use need this game to jump ourselves up into a one-two position,” he said.
“If one of us loses a game we’re in danger of coming third or fourth, or missing finals altogether.
“Dandenong having played Monday are coming off a limited preparation and we are hoping that’s a factor.
“Having said that Larissa Anderson is a very good coach and she will know full well what she wants to do against us.”
The Spirit’s last trip to Dandenong this season was a nightmare, with the Rangers prevailing by 32 points.
They were able to rebound at home in week seven, posting a 14 point win.
In a year-filled with milestones, popular guard Heather Oliver will play her 100th game for the Spirit.
But Oliver, a crowd favourite with Spirit fans, said the milestone was the furtherest thing from her mind in the lead-up to the clash.
“I’m more excited about the game and playing Dandenong, it’s a massive game,” she said.
“That’s all I am concerned about, especially coming close to finals.
“They are always tough to beat in Dandenong, but we have a job to do.”
Oliver believed the Spirit had thrived on the pressure cooker atmosphere of recent weeks.
“We know, especially this year, every game is going to be a tough game, so we go into it confident we can play well,” she said.
“We’ve proven to ourselves, beating (second-placed) Townsville twice up there, that we can beat anyone.
“When there is only one win between first place and fifth place it puts it in perspective just how close the season is and how competitive each team is.”