The scoreline was still lopsided but the Casterton Sandford line-up walked away from its loss to East Gambier knowing they have significantly improved.
The last time the two sides met, East Gambier scored 95 goals and while it might seem like a small win – the Cats kept the Bulldogs to 69.
Missing Tarsh McCallum, who is in a race against time to return in time for finals, the Bulldogs looked a little unsettled offensively and the opening quarter was a quarter of turnovers for both sides as the young Cats defensive line made life tough for East Gambier and Lisa Fyfe, Bo Creek and Tyne Bosko ensured there was no easy ball in the Cats offensive third.
Paige Murrell stood tall for the Cats in the opening quarter, using her well timed moves and ability to find space where there is none to earn plenty of ball and, most importantly, converting accurately, netting nine from 10.
The quarter time scoreline of East eight goals in the clear, was as close as the Cats would have expected to get, with Fyfe and Creek ensuring it was still a comfortable scoreline with their ability to win the ball back, especially any cross court offerings.
The second quarter saw the Bulldogs find their mojo as Amryn Bosko and Tenille Gray started to dominate, converting 20 from 23 as a combination as they started to find each other in space with monotonous regularity.
The issue at the other end was supply as the Cats only generated seven scoring opportunities, converting five.
The second quarter scoreline was not just due to the stunning efforts of Amryn Bosko and Gray but the smothering defensive efforts of the East back three and clearly best on court Emily Hunter.
The interceptions and deflections set up the scoring opportunities and the Cats struggled to find a way through.
Both teams swung changes at the half with East 23 goals clear.
The Cats just slightly rejigged their line-up while sticking with the same seven, while the Bulldogs gave Alysia Geraghty her first taste of A Grade action at goal shooter while moving Amryn Bosko, who had been outstanding in goal shooter, netting 16 from 19 to the attacking wing to take over from Casey Horrigan.
While the scoreline still heavily favoured the Bulldogs in the second half, the Cats showed great signs.
The defensive group of Caeleigh Humphries, Ebany Jarrad and Claire Foster continue to improve and they generated touches and interceptions that ensured East did not have it all their own way.
Tyne Bosko had a third quarter to remember as she continually won the ball back but her ability, across four quarters, to deny the Cats feeders easy access to the circle’s edge was pivotal in the final wash up.
Interestingly, the same two sides meet this weekend and so the Cats, while only having a week to iron out some wrinkles, will be looking to again improve against the competition benchmark.
The usual suspects were outstanding for East with Hunter, Gray and Fyfe setting their usual high standards while there were plenty of positives for the Cats.
The debut of Mikayla Hutchins was a revelation.
The young mid courter showed no signs of being overwhelmed by the credentials of her opposition.
Despite being undersized she contested everything, she ran to the right spots and she delivered the ball, for the most part, with accuracy and confidence.
Charlotte Rice also continues to improve and the three young defenders never take a backwards step but are also starting to find better positioning and the game smarts required to stay in play and not attract whistle.