At first glance a 14-point victory for the Bendigo Bank Spirit over the Adelaide Lightning may appear a comfortable WNBL season-opening result.
But it was anything but for the Spirit at the Bendigo Stadium on Saturday night.
While the Spirit won 77-63, they were forced into overtime by the Lightning, who had led the match earlier by as many as 14 points.
However, after a scrappy performance for much of the night typical of a round one game, it seemed the Spirit needed the scare of overtime to jolt into action against a team tipped to be one of this season’s battlers.
The Spirit destroyed the Lightning in overtime, outscoring Adelaide 16-2, with Bendigo’s Kerryn Harrington the player who took hold of the game by the scruff of the neck in the extra five minutes.
Harrington had the chance to score the game-winner in the last play of the final quarter after Adelaide’s Colleen Planeta had hit a two-point jump shot to tie the scores at 61 with 8.2 seconds left.
Harrington transitioned the ball from the back court and drove to the basket, but her lay-up under pressure didn’t score, sending the game into overtime.
Harrington then wasted little time in putting the Spirit on the path to victory, scoring the opening six points of overtime inside the first 32 seconds.
First she nailed a three-pointer, then she scored a two off a steal and was fouled, adding another point and from there, the Spirit never looked back as they won their opening game of the season for the first time since 2012-13.
After scoring just three points in 26 minutes throughout the first four quarters, Harrington added eight in overtime.
The only points the Spirit allowed the Lightning in overtime were two free throws to captain Lauren Hodges.
The Spirit shot an ordinary 9-of-17 from the free-throw line – at one stage they were 1-of-7 – and it almost came back to bite them.
Inside the last 21 seconds with Bendigo ahead by one point, Kelsey Griffin missed two free throws and Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe went 1-of-2, with those three missed opportunities costing the Spirit the chance for some late breathing space.
By half-time the Spirit had pegged their deficit back to one point, and at three quarter-time led by three, before a game which had to that stage been petering along sprung to life in the final term.
The Lightning scored the first eight points of the final quarter to lead by five, the Spirit hit back with a 9-2 run to lead by two, before the two sides traded baskets over the last four minutes in what was a gripping finish.
Heather Oliver was superb off the bench to be the Spirit’s best player.
The tenacious Oliver combined 15 points with four rebounds, two assists, three steals and three blocks.
New import Raincock-Ekunwe registered a double-double on debut with 16 points – including the Spirit’s first seven of the match – and 11 rebounds.
Superstar Griffin had a quiet night offensively with just 10 points – the first not coming until halfway through the second quarter – but she did haul down nine rebounds and dish out a game-high five assists.