SOUTH Bendigo saved its best for last to overrun fellow finals contender Castlemaine at the Queen Elizabeth Oval on Saturday.
The Bloods, led by their twin talls Chloe Langley and Olivia Mason in the shooting circle, produced a 23-12 final quarter to defeat a tiring Magpies 61-46.
The win was achieved without a trio of their regular A-graders.
Castlemaine too was without a bevy of players, headed by star recruits Mikaela Vaughan and Kelsie Rainbow and star young midcourter Caitlin Richardson (back), and was left scrounging to fill a team, with illness and injuries also taking a toll at Camp Reserve.
A dire situation required three players to play full or nearly full games in both A-reserve and A-grade, which certainly took its toll in the final term.
South Bendigo was down to a bare seven, with a pair of A-reserve players on the bench, following the loss of six-time BFNL premiership star Alicia McGlashan with a broken arm, sustained in last week's draw against Kyneton, and with Jamie-Lee Clohesy and Ella Flavell also absent.
Bloods coach Jannelle Hobbs declared the final quarter as her side's best for the season so far, highlighted by standout performances in goals by Langley and Mason.
"I was a bit worried about this game, it hasn't been an ideal preparation this week with illness and injury, but I had faith in the girls we had out there," she said.
"We were wary, Castlemaine is a good side and they are doing great things down there with their netball.
"We knew it would be a tough game and it took until that last quarter for us to really break away.
"I'm proud of the girls and the effort they put in today. They all wanted it and rose to the occasion. It was a great team effort."
Something to work on for the Bloods going forward, according to Hobbs, will be sustaining their pressure for the full four quarters.
Their nine-goal lead at quarter time was reduced to six at half time and four by three quarter time, as the Magpies slowly but surely worked their way back into the contest.
"We've been starting games well - we did last week (against Kyneton) too - but then we've been relaxing and letting other teams in," Hobbs said.
"I've told them they need to be ruthless. Once you get a lead, you can't afford to give it back.
"That's why the last quarter was so pleasing.
"Just knowing we can rise to that next level and can beat these good sides is something we need to be able to do each week."
A pleasing team performance was aided by exceptional performances in the midcourt from Keiarah Brooks and Chloe Gray.
After managing to pull together a team, Castlemaine co-coaches Gary Cooke and Fiona Fowler were pleased with their side's effort, albeit disappointed with the final quarter after being within striking distance at the final change.
"Four down at three quarter time, we felt like we were right in it, but they were just exhausted," Cooke said.
"It was a couple of the girls' second game for the day and they just tired.
"It was a better performance than we thought, we just didn't want it to blow out like that at the end, which was a shame.
We were wary, Castlemaine is a good side and they are doing great things down there with their netball.- Jannelle Hobbs
"In a strange way, we will walk away knowing we will be a lot better next time."
Cooke could not give a definitive answer on when the Magpies would be at full strength, Vaughan and Rainbow included.
The Magpies, now 3-2, still have co-coach Fowler to return at some point following the recent birth of her and husband Jack's second child.
A brave effort was again led by Maddie Carter, who was the Magpies' best for the second straight week, and late fill-in Shannon Blackman, the pair alternating throughout the match at centre and wing attack.
Carter went into the match nursing a hamstring strain.
Having not fielded the same starting seven all year, the Magpies' coaches are anticipating a strong second half to the season once the line-up becomes settled.
"For us, it's still about combinations and when we can get our entire team out there, but it's still early days. It's still only round five," Fowler said.
"Finals are still what we are aiming for - I'm sure the second half of the season will be better."
South Bendigo moved to 3-1-1 and replaced Castlemaine in fourth spot.
In other games, Gisborne defeated Strathfieldsaye on the Storm's home court 70-37 to retain third spot on the league ladder.
Top-of-the-ladder Sandhurst defeated Golden Square 93-23 and second-placed Kangaroo Flat overcame a spirited Kyneton 65-40.
At Maryborough, the Magpies scored their second win of the season with a 56-30 victory against Eaglehawk, highlighted by the appearance of some of the Magpies' most promising juniors.
READ MORE: Magpies give a glimpse of future
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