The Melbourne Vixens inflicted West Coast Fever's second consecutive loss and, in turn, kept their own finals aspirations alive for another week, with an upset 56-48 win at Margaret Court Arena on Sunday.
With their backs against the wall and needing to win their last three matches starting today against the Fever, the Vixens ignored all external doubts to lead at every change for the eight-goal win.
The Vixens' ability to nullify the impact of in-form Fever trio Khao Watts, Nat Medhurst and goaling giant Caitlin Bassett was key to the home side's success.
Goal for goal for the first 10 minutes of the match, Vixens goal keeper Geva Mentor set the tone for Melbourne's improved defensive pressure, while Chemist Warehouse MVP Karyn Bailey (39 goals from 42 attempts) did her best at the other end.
With Liz Watson and Kate Moloney pushed up a position on the court and youngster Chloe Watson getting the start at wing defence, the possession break was all the Vixens needed as they took a three-goal lead into quarter time.
The Fever responded in dominant fashion, swiftly eradicating the deficit to take a two-goal lead just four minutes into the second term.
Determined to avoid pre-match predictions going to plan, Moloney and Liz Watson lifted their mid-court intensity to bring the scores level at 24-all before a Fever time out.
Yet it would be the home side, spurred on by 5,380 fans at Margaret Court Arena that got the jump as Bailey continued her efficiency, missing just one attempt up to half time. Her side leading 28-25 at the main break.
Coach Simone McKinnis benched captain Bianca Chatfield after the veteran skipper had performed solidly on Medhurst in favour of the youthful Jo Weston to maximum effect.
The 21-year-old's energetic and physical approach, backed up by her teammates' full-court pressure unsettled the normally unflappable Fever goal attack, who was penalised on four-occasions for held-ball.
Post-match coach McKinnis credited her side's start as an integral focus for the end result.
“The intensity and the focus was there, and the power and the strength in us as a group was there as well," McKinnis said.
“It was a pretty solid week of training for them, but it was about hitting that intensity and maintaining it.
“We knew it was coming, but it was good to see it out there. It was good for them to feel it, especially the young ones, who've been struggling to find it.
Fever coach Stacey Rosman rang the changes through the second half, exchanging all three of Erna Mikaere, Josie Janz-Dawson and Courtney Bruce onto a near-unstoppable Bailey.
At one stage, blowing the margin to nine goals, the Fever threatened with one final onslaught bringing the margin back to five.
The Vixens would again press late to record their most important win of the season to date.
Fever captain Ash Brazill, locked in a mouth-watering battle with Liz Watson and then Moloney for the day, credited the home side for taking it to top of the table team.
"We just dropped momentum and they just kept going. That's a quality side," Brazill said.
“(The) Vixens are in finals year in and year out and they know how to finish it off, and we are still learning."
“That is not an excuse. We are one of the toughest teams at the moment and we just didn't bring it today."
While finals is no guarantee for the Vixens, they meet the third-placed NSW Swifts next weekend at Margaret Court Arena.
Final Score: Melbourne Vixens 56 defeated West Coast Fever 48
Vixens Shooting Statistics
Karyn Bailey 39/42 (93%)
Tegan Philip 17/24 (71%)
Fever Shooting Statistics
Caitlin Bassett 35/38 (92%)
Nat Medhurst 13/17 (76%)
Chemist Warehouse MVP: Karyn Bailey