RUST from the Christmas break and missed free throws contributed to the Ararat Redbacks heartbreaking loss on Saturday night.
The Redbacks travelled to Portland with their season on the line, desperate for victory to remain firmly within finals contention.
The 10-point loss instead leaves the side only an outside chance of returning to the Country Basketball League finals, their destiny depending on other teams' results.
The Redbacks were on the back foot from the first whistle on Saturday, with Portland taking a nine-point lead late in the first quarter.
Having last played on December 7, Redbacks coach Marcus Jenkins said his side were slow to pick up the pace after the Christmas break.
"The break hurt us a lot," a disappointed Jenkins said on Sunday.
"As much as you try to run game scenarios in training, you just can't replicate actual games.
"We came out like we were still on holidays.
We couldn't make a pass to save ourselves early in the gameMarcus Jenkins
"We couldn't make a pass to save ourselves early in the game, (and) they were making baskets off turnovers. Too many cheap baskets."
Despite the lackadaisical start, the Redbacks trailed by just six points at half time.
"Considering the way we played, the margin could have been a lot worse," Jenkins said.
But Ararat came out with renewed vigor after half-time to snatch the lead.
"Normally it is our third quarter that lets us down, but that was our best quarter of the game this time," Jenkins said.
"We tweaked a few things and got on a roll."
Led by Josh Fiegert's 11 third-quarter points, the Redbacks took a five point lead heading into the final quarter, 71-76.
The last quarter ebbed and flowed, with the side still holding a five point lead with six minutes left on the clock.
But it was the Portland Coasters who held their nerve in the final minutes, spurred on by a raucous home crowd, while the Redbacks were left to lament inaccurate free throw shooting.
It comes down to mental toughnessMarcus Jenkins
"It was a tough loss - free throws win games, and we missed 11 or 12 free throws and lost by 10 points. That part of the game is a bit disheartening," Jenkins said.
"It's one thing we do a training a lot is free throws, because we know we have to hit them to win games.
"It comes down to mental toughness and mindfulness of what we can and can't do."
Despite the disappointing result, Jenkins was hopeful the Redbacks' season could be resurrected with a double-header against Geelong and Terang next week.
"We're going to push to the last minute," he said. "Hopefully with a few results going our way, we might be about to scrape in."
The contest on Saturday night against Geelong will likely be their last home game of the season.
"Hopefully Ararat and the surrounding areas can get in and support us on Saturday," Jenkins said.
"It gives us a bit more spring in our step playing in front of a good home crowd. Hopefully they can make some noise and spur us on to take down the top team (Geelong)."
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