Spirit fires up in a tough and proud win
There was one passage of play in the Villawood Bendigo Spirit’s gutsy win against old foes Townsville Fire on Thursday night that typified what the blue-and-gold is all about this season.
It won’t be in any highlights package, and won’t be something the coaches use in any video debrief this week.
With 3.45 left in the second quarter, down by one, the hot-handed Maddie Garrick put up a mid-court jump shot. It hit the front of the ring and bounced back.
There were three Townsville players competing against two Spirit players – Megan McKay and Anneli Maley – for the rebound.
The Spirit duo forced the ball to the ground. By that stage another Fire player had joined the scrap – four against two.
But one of those two was Maley, who crashed the pack, took two Fire players with her onto the floor, and pushed the ball out to McKay who scored, to give Bendigo back the lead.
That team-first, blue-collar style mixed in with some moments of sublime basketball is what got the Spirit over the line against the Fire, to record the club’s first back-to-back wins in more than two years.
A slow start resulted in Bendigo being down by five points at quarter time, on the back of seven turnovers. But a stunning second term saw McKay and Garrick (seven points for the quarter) push Bendigo to a 42-41 lead at half time.
Then Maley did what the MVP favourite has done all year, dropping 12 points in the third term to help Bendigo increase its lead to six at the last break.
The final term was a slugfest, with both sides going at each other the same way they did when they played off in three Grand Finals almost a decade ago.
Townsville took back the lead with just over three minutes to go but, importantly, Bendigo was able to absorb the pressure, as they did against Adelaide in their previous game 11 days earlier.
Key plays by Maley, Alex Wilson, and Carly Boag in the home straight saw Bendigo home 76-71 in a game for the ages.
Maley finished with another incredible double-double, ending the night on 25 points and 19 rebounds. Garrick hit 18 for her third strong game in a row since returning from an ankle injury.
McKay had 10 points and was a huge presence against the star-studded Townsville frontcourt. The experience of Wilson (eight points) and Boag (seven), also showed when it mattered most.
Coach Tracy York said the result was an important one for the team and the club.
“I’m very proud of the girls for such a tough and relentless effort in all areas of the game. That was highlighted with plus-20 on the rebound count,” she said.
“We kept building momentum and when Townsville hit back to take the lead late in the final quarter, we steadied again, got stops, and made free throws.
“I’m very proud of this team. They are such a positive and cohesive group and we want to keep getting better.”
The Spirit’s next game is at home against Adelaide on February 24. Tip-off is 7pm.
Photo: Akuna Photography