A flash of brilliance from an unlikely hero quelled a Melbourne Vixens fightback as the Queensland Firebirds finished the Super Netball season with a 62-58 bang at Brisbane's Nissan Arena.
Understudy defender Ruby Bakewell-Doran was nowhere near the frame when the Firebirds were settling their defence combinations at the start of this campaign but she will push hard for future consideration after a sparkling cameo in the side's season finale.
With the outcome in dispute at 56-56 with four minutes left, the stage was set for a game breaker to stand up.
Injured Queensland defenders, captain Gabi Simpson (Achilles) and goal keeper Tara Hinchliffe (knee) could only watch from the stands as the Vixens crept out to a slim lead.
But an offensive contact call against Vixens captain Kate Moloney, then a stunning intercept from Bakewell-Doran, enabled the fifth-placed Firebirds to hang on for their sixth win of the year.
Firebirds coach Megan Anderson trusted the team's understudies to haul the side out of danger.
She had earlier replaced Gretel Bueta and the easy decision would have been to reunite the star goal attack with shooter Romelda Aiken (52 goals) for the closing minutes.
Anderson held her nerve and the patchwork outfit held on for a satisfying victory.
"It was so good to get the win and I'm proud of the girls for everything they've been through this past month," said wing attack Lara Dunkley, who finished with 43 feeds and 20 assists.
"As you can see the secondary bench is full of injured players so it's good to see the young ones step up."
The game was the end of the longest winter for 2020 champions the Vixens who finished with the wooden spoon.
This season has been a marathon and for both sides and the finish line could not come soon enough.
Vixens defender Jo Weston typically has the capacity to turn a game with her will but she was emblematic of the lethargy weighing down the two outfits in their final outing for the season.
There was little drive from either attack end, leaving weary midcourters the challenge of trying to spark something from nothing.
Defenders Bakewell-Doran and Hulita VeVe, both standouts in Queensland's second-tier Sapphire Series, were handed opportunities and they gave their coach something to think about during the off-season.
With contracts up for grabs next season, both heaped pressure on the Vixens' attack, with Bakewell-Doran collecting an intercept and a handful of deflections to help the Firebirds to a four-goal lead at three-quarter time.
Australian Associated Press