No coach is ever happy with a loss, but Bendigo Spirit coach Tracy York walked away from Dandenong Basketball Stadium on Saturday night with something to smile about.
After copping two heavy defeats in their two pre-season games, the Spirit's WNBL season-opener against the cashed-up, big spending Southside Flyers was a marked improvement.
The Flyers won 94-83, and while there's still plenty of work to do particularly on the defensive end, York was happy that the work her side put in over the past week or so reaped some rewards on game night.
"It was a big improvement,'' York said.
"We had a couple of pre-season games and it was good to come away from them with some things we had to work on.
"We didn't have a very good start at all against Southside in our pre-season game, so it was good to get off to a good start in this game.
"They're a massive team to try to hold back. I thought overall we showed we're going to be very competitive."
The Spirit made a great start and led by as many as six points in the opening quarter, thanks largely to an inspired two-minute offensive burst from Carly Boag.
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The power forward came off the bench and inside two minutes of game time scored nine points on 4-4 shooting.
The Spirit surge sparked the Flyers into action and the momentum of the match swung quickly.
In a stretch over the final 2:45 of the first quarter and first 3:45 of the second quarter, the Flyers stamped their authority with a 23-6 run that opened up a 13-point margin.
It looked like being a repeat of the pre-season matches where the Spirit were blown away, but to their credit the visitors dug in and showed great fight.
Tessa Lavey and Meg McKay found their range from behind the three-point arc and, when development player Alana Goodchild drained another three-pointer, the margin was back to nine points.
The final minute of the first half wasn't kind to the Spirit as the Flyers scored five unanswered points to extend the lead to 14 at the main break.
The third quarter was arguably the Spirit's best 10-minutes of basketball in two years.
Despite facing a 17-point deficit with 3:33 remaining in the term, they outscored the Flyers 27-22 for the quarter.
A 12-4 run to end the term saw the Spirit back within nine points at the final change.
The Flyers' big guns ensured there'd be no fairytale comeback by the Spirit in the final term.
Australian Opals stars Jenna O'Hea, Bec Cole and Abby Bishop and former Spirit forward Sara Blicavs made key baskets to stretch Southside's lead out to as many as 17 points.
Southside's big four accounted for 87 of the team's 94 points for the match.
In contrast, the Spirit had six players score in double figures - Anneli Maley (15), Lavey (15), Mary Goulding (13), Boag (11), McKay (11) and Maddie Garrick (10).
Garrick and star signing Leiliani Mitchell had poor shooting nights. They were a combined 6-26 from the floor, including 3-12 from behind the three-point line.
As advertised, Maley was a monster on the boards and she fought hard defensively.
In her first WNBL game for the Spirit, Maley pulled down 13 rebounds, had two steals and dished out five assists to go with her 15 points.
"We put 83 points on the board, which was great, but we gave up 94 points which is way too many,'' York said.
"Teams like us that don't have the big budgets like Southside need to have everybody contributing.
"It was great for us to share the load and have six players score in double figures.
"Anneli Maley was great on the boards."
The Spirit only has a few days recovery before hosting their first home game of the season on Wednesday night.
They face another league power - the Melbourne Boomers - with tip-off at 8pm.
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