A FRUSTRATING season littered with overtime losses has come to a seemingly self-fulfilling end for the Bendigo Spirit.
For the fourth time in the space of six home matches, the Spirit were beaten in overtime; this time by the championship favourites and this time in double overtime.
But not before the Spirit, minus their top two scorers this season, the injured Nadeen Payne and departed Becca Tobin, served it up to a University of Canberra Capitals line-up piled with talent.
A Spirit galvanised for departing coach Simon Pritchard’s last game at the helm, led the Capitals for the bulk of the game.
Scores in the final quarter were locked at 73-apiece, when former Spirit star Kelly Wilson unloaded a three with little more than three minutes to play.
Opals guard Leilani Mitchell put the Capitals ahead with 52 seconds remaining with another three, before Nat Hurst countered from long-range to again level the scores with 42 seconds on the clock.
A miss from for Spirit star Kelsey Griffin was followed by a huge block from Bendigo back-up Caitlin McLachlan to set up one final chance for the Spirit to clinch the game in the regulation.
With the time clock quickly running down, Abbey Wehrung made one last drive and lay-up, but the call was reversed to send the game into overtime.
Unlike their previous three overtime losses to Townsville, Melbourne and Adelaide, the Spirit were able to keep pace with their rivals to extend the game into a second extra period.
But a big three pointer from gun import Kia Nurse, who had largely been subdued by the Spirit, to break a 92-92 deadlock and some clutch free throws from the same player and Wilson helped the Capitals to a 101-97 win.
For coach Pritchard, a frustrating, but courageous loss affirmed the tremendous growth shown by his largely young group during the season.
It was highlighted by a stellar individual performance from Wehrung, who notched her first 30-point game in the WNBL, to go alongside four rebounds and four assists.
“Abbey was dominant in that first half with 24 points and really set the tone for us and laid down the groundwork for a win,” he said.
“Abbey’s mantra this season was to go from a bench player and a player who can do good things, to a player who is expected to do good things.
“Wearing that jacket of expectation is the transition she has needed to make and in the last four or five weeks that jacket has sat comfortably on her shoulders.”
A brilliant captain’s game from Nat Hurst ended with 27 points, three assists, two rebounds and two steals.
The former seven-time championship player with Canberra, who was awarded life membership on Saturday alongside Wilson and former Spirit star Gabe Richards, saw the four late-season overtime losses as perhaps evidence the Spirit were one good player away from mounting a serious challenge for finals.
“I am really proud of being part of this group, (Simon) is not lying when he says this is a great bunch of girls,” she said.
“Everyone has stepped up when they’ve needed to – the young ones have improved this season.
“Abbey, (Marena) Whittle, (Cassidy) McLean, (Kara) Tessari – Maddi Wild come,s out tonight without playing many minutes, Caitlin McLachlan too – everyone has improved this season and everyone was here for the same thing.
“We know we fell a little bit short, but I am super-proud to be a part of this group and I see a great future here for Bendigo basketball.”
For the Capitals, Griffin finished with 24 points and a staggering 20 rebounds, while Marianna Tolo top-scored with 27 points to go alongside 10 rebounds.
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