CIRCLE defenders Emma Ryan and Emma Farrant entertained the home crowd with exciting aerial displays.
Former basketballer Cass Peace gave the centre court plenty of bite, captain Johanna Dash worked relentlessly and young gun Laura McDonald, promoted late in the season, shot well under intense physical pressure.
For the most part, Federation University Pride matched Peninsula Waves in the Victorian Netball League championship division match at the Wendouree Sports and Events Centre on Saturday night.
It was a 24-goal loss, the margin mostly ballooning in the second quarter when the Waves outscored Pride by 11 goals, then again in a lapse when fatigue set in late in the fourth.
Pride drew on hometown support in a close opening term, which went goal-for-goal until the final minute's play when a surging Waves pushed the margin to five goals.
Ballarat head coach Jo Dash said the way play unfolded summed up the Pride journey - outmuscled by bigger, more experienced players - but at least a home crowd could watch and appreciate the battle.
"The intensity in how we played for the first 13-and-a-half minutes of the first quarter, that was beautiful play. It was strong and direct and structured," Dash said.
"It shows what we can do when we play in front, on ball side, and have a little give-and-go."
Pride was left to rue how play unravelled in the second quarter.
Changes failed to click, despite the valiant efforts of first-year defender Sarah Milton who was sent into the circle to step up physicality on the Waves goalers.
Dash said Ryan and Farrant dominated in the air but were often outmuscled when it came close to the post.
The same went for Pride's goalers who were constantly bumped to the ground and constantly picking themselves up to shoot.
Pride resettled in the third quarter and led the Waves in scoring for the term until a late rush levelled the tallies.
Basic mistakes, like passing errors and stepping, crept into Pride play but Dash was pleased with her players' persistence.
"Two good quarters of netball is never going to be enough to win a game," Dash said.
"Physicality takes its toll and frustrating mistakes.
"...I can't fault effort of the players - they were all trying and adjusting things the whole time."
Pride will return to play in Ballarat for the second and final time this season in a showdown with arch-rival Geelong on June 1.
*Meanwhile, Pride's 19/unders fought out a thrilling draw with the Waves, who levelled scores with a goal inside the final 15 seconds' play.
Federation University Pride had its chances.
In a powerful start Pride piled on seven unanswered goals and the Waves clawed back when Pride centre Madi Gay left the court injured in the second quarter.
Pride again pushed to an eight-goal lead in the final term via strong goaling combination Hayley Fidler and promoted development player Lauren Jew.
The Waves intense physical pressure proved overpowering.
PENINSULA 15 34 45 60
BALLARAT 10 18 29 36
Ballarat shooting: Laura McDonald 7/8, 6/9, 5/7, 6/8 (75%); Cindy Daniel 3/5, 2/4, 6/9, 1/2 (60%).
Division one: Peninsula 46 d Ballarat 28
19/under: Ballarat 35 drew Peninsula 35