A RESURGENT Leitchville-Gunbower staked a major claim for a finals berth, while Mount Pleasant all but locked in the double chance.
That's the upshot of an intriguing round 15 of HDFNL A-grade netball on Saturday.
The Bombers climbed from eighth to fifth spot with a stirring eight-goal victory over fourth-placed Colbinabbin, which missed its chance to further press for a top-three finish.
While Mount Pleasant did what it had to do to all but guarantee third spot with a 57-38 win over Lockington-Bamawm United.
It was a round of missed opportunities for several finals aspirants, in particular Huntly and LBU.
In fifth place heading into the weekend, Huntly slipped to sixth following a gut-wrenching one-goal loss to North Bendigo.
The Bulldogs, bolstered by the inclusion of Collingwood Magpies training partner Zoe Davies, notched up their third win of the season with a thrilling 39-38 win at Huntly.
With back-to-back clashes against Lockington-Bamawm United and Mount Pleasant to come ahead of a final round bye, the Bulldogs will continue to shape the top five.
Meanwhile, Heathcote was unable to make any ground on Huntly, LBU and now Leitchville-Gunbower above it on the ladder, despite an ultra-competitive 55-46 loss to second-placed Elmore.
But clearly the biggest beneficiary from the weekend's results was Leitchville-Gunbower, which made amends for a four-goal loss earlier in the season, to defeat the Grasshoppers 50-42 in a see-sawing contest at Gunbower.
It has filled the Bombers with hopes of a first finals appearance since 2016, with a round 18 clash against Heathcote looming as the key to their chances.
Evenly poised at three quarter time, the Bombers finished over the top of the young Grasshoppers to prevail by eight goals.
The move of Shanae Haw into goal shooter and a switch in midcourt positions for Emily Prout and Georgia McKellar in the final quarter ignited the Bombers, who notched up their fifth win of the season, with four of them coming in their last six matches.
Still hampered by a knee injury, coach Lauren Dehne, who played only five minutes, praised a resilient effort from the Bombers.
"It was a really great team effort again. You look at each of the girls and you could not say anyone played a poor game," she said.
"Everyone just did their bit. It was a really tight game, but we just seized the momentum in the last quarter and ran with it.
"It was close all day; the lead would have changed multiple times throughout the game.
"But we changed up our goal circle in the last quarter and that seemed to do the job, and we changed our midcourt positions around which gave us a little bit more momentum and intensity to run away with it."
While the Bombers face a tough next two weeks with games against top pair Elmore and White Hills before a final round contest against Heathcote, Dehne is rapt they have worked their way back into finals contention.
"To be honest, I hadn't really looked at the ladder because I felt finals were only a very slim chance, but I had a look (Saturday) night and we are still a sneaky chance," she said.
"We need to at least do well in the next two weeks and keep things reasonable.
"We'll go out and try and win, but we'll aim to be as competitive as we possibly can against White Hills and Elmore and keep our percentage as good as we can and then hope to get the win against Heathcote.
"That might just get in, so what will be will be."
The Bombers, who were again without star defender Ash Cullen through illness, were superbly led by goaler Hannah Donehue, while Macey Brereton and Gemma Angove were great stumbling blocks in defence.
Dehne reserved praise for Maddie Elliott, who has stepped up from A-reserve in the past month, to become a crucial contributor at wing defence.
"She came up to fill a hole, but you could not drop her now, she's been on fire," she said.
A loss for Colbinabbin, combined with Mount Pleasant's 19-goal win, put the Grasshoppers three wins and percentage behind the Blues in the race for third with three games to play.
The Grasshoppers and Blues play each other in round 18 at Colbinabbin.
Colbinabbin (6-7): v Huntly (A); v Lockington-Bamawm United (A); v Mount Pleasant (H).
Leitchville-Gunbower (5-8): v Elmore (A); v White Hills (H); v Heathcote (A).
Lockington-Bamawm United (4-9): v North Bendigo (A); Colbinabbin (H); v Elmore (A).
Huntly (5-8): v Colbinabbin (A); V Elmore (H); V White Hills (A).
Heathcote (4-9): v White Hills (A); bye; v Leitchville-Gunbower (H).
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