The Stawell Warriors gave the Horsham Demons their biggest test of the season so far on Saturday.
The visitors took it up to the reigning premiers for the majority of the match, but small lapses cost them in the end.
The Demons opened the match in blistering fashion, booting four goals and taking 11 scoring shots to lead Stawell by 24 points at the first break.
Rather than rolling over and letting Horsham romp home to another big win, Stawell dug deep after the break to move within four points by half-time.
“They were really good. After quarter-time we couldn’t get our game plan sorted which is a credit to them,” Horsham coach Deek Roberts said.
“They set up well behind the ball and made it really hard for us to score. They may have even hit the front at one point.”
The Demons got back on top in the third term but a gutsy Stawell side refused to give up, keeping the deficit to just 15 points.
The Warriors have been one of the worst performing sides in second halves this season, but they overcame those concerns to win the fourth quarter but finish two goals short of Horsham.
Stawell coach Jamie Solyom said the match showed the development his side is making.
“To fight back after the fast start Horsham had shows the character of the players,” he said. "We are staying in games longer which makes us more dangerous over four quarters.
The Demons held on for an 11.14 (80) to 10.8 (68) win at home to keep their undefeated run alive.
Roberts said he saw room for improvement but is still happy to take the four points.
“We spoke a bit about the match being a turning point in our season. We need to refocus and plan what we need to do for the nest half of the season,” he said.
Saturday’s game was the closest any team has been to the reigning premiers in the first nine rounds of the season. Warrack got within 20 points of Horsham in round four, the previous closest for any side.
Ben Lakin and Brodie Mines were influential for Horsham while Ryan Kemp and Deek Roberts made important contributions with two and three goals each respectively.
Bradlee Carnovale booted four goals for Stawell while Jackson Dark was once again among the best. Naish McRoberts was named Stawell’s best player for the fifth time this season.
“Naish is just great to watch. He takes the game on and brings other players up with him too which is just fantastic,” Solyom said.
Roberts said he was impressed with what he saw from the Warriors.
“They are a very well coached team from what I saw on Saturday,” he said.
“They played the ground pretty well yesterday. Their half-backs were fantastic and they spread really well through the midfield.”
Saturday’s game was also the first for Stawell’s 2017 best and fairest winner Sean Mantell in more than a month.
“He pulled up fine. Once he gets some more game time and more runs at it he will get back to the class we know he has,” Solyom said.