A BEST effort to date in the condensed 2020 WNBL season has failed to prevent the Bendigo Spirit from slipping to a 0-5 record.
The Spirit were clearly at the top of their game in the opening half of Saturday night's loss to the Townsville Fire, sprinting to an 11 point lead at quarter time and seven points at the main break.
But it was a familiar face, who would help sink the Spirit in the second half.
Teenager Shyla Heal, who represented the Spirit last season, cut loose in the third term for the Fire on their home court.
Her nine points for the quarter - aided by a similar total from Lauren Nicholson - helped the Fire turn a seven point deficit into an 11 point advantage at the final break.
Try as they might, the Spirit were unable to get any closer than the final margin of 10 points, as the Fire ran out winners 91-81.
Heal, who enjoyed a breakout season with the Spirit in 2019-20, continued her stellar form in the final quarter to finish the match with a game-high 22 points, six rebounds and three assists, after having just four points in the opening half.
Zitina Aokuso came off the bench to score 21 points for the Fire, while Nicholson chimed in with 20.
It was a game of two-halves for the Spirit, who looked red-hot in powering their way to an 11 point lead at quarter time (26-15).
They were brilliantly led by star point guard and captain Tessa Lavey, who kick-started the opening quarter charge with seven points, well aided by New Zealand recruit Mary Goulding with six points.
The pair added six points apiece in the second quarter - and with Chevannah Paalvast (6), who started the match in place of Alicia Froling, Amelia Todhunter (5) and Cassidy McLean (5) chiming in with important contributions - Spirit coach Tracy York was getting the type of support for her star Carley Ernst (6) that she called for following the team's loss to Perth on Wednesday night, as they led by seven points at the main break.
A lay-up to Goulding early in the third term gave the Spirit a 50-40 lead, but it was virtually all one-way traffic from there on as the Fire outscored the visitors 29-11 to establish their 11 point break at three-quarter time.
Goulding, who produced the best basketball of her short Spirit career to date, and Lavey continued their high work-rate to finish with equal team-highs of 19 points, with the captain dishing out a game-high 11 points.
Ernst continued her fine season with 15 points, five assists and eight rebounds - all of them at the defensive end of the court - while Paalvast and McLean chimed in with eight and seven points respectively.
An area of concern for the Spirit was its shooting from beyond the arc, with the team nailing just 25 per cent of its 28 attempts.
With the WNBL announcing changes to its schedule after Adelaide Lightning was forced to quarantine, the Spirit's return clash against the Fire, originally scheduled for Sunday, will now be played this Tuesday.
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