VETERAN defender Tracey Sallustio was the hero for the Dubbo Blue Jays on Saturday as she thwarted a late short corner to help her side to a thrilling 1-1 draw with Orange Ex-Services at Pioneer Park.
With time expired the visitors had two chances at the set piece to land a winner but were unable to do so, with Sallustio's block and clearance of the final shot ensuring the teams split the points in an affair which saw both goals scored in the opening stanza.
The Blue Jays had the better of the opening exchanges and were rewarded when Maddie Bott rocketed a shot in off a short corner after just four minutes of play.
But despite the early confidence boost the home side couldn't capitalise on further chances they created as play went from end-to-end at a frenetic pace.
They paid for that in the 24th minute when Jade Williams hammered home the equaliser for Ex-Services, who by that stage had worked their way into the game.
In a free-flowing affair both sides created chances in the final minutes of the first half but some solid defending, primarily from the Dubbo trio of Kate Corcoran, Prue Rutherford and Sallustio, and Orange's Ebony Press, ensured the scores would be level as the sides enjoyed a well-earned break.
"They had their chances there, particularly right at the end, but our girls did well to hold them out"
Dubbo received a boost in the second half when youngster Courtney Hogan, who left the pitch with a shoulder complaint prior to the interval, was able to return, and along with captain Alex Waters she was part of a midfield that had the hosts pushing forward in the early minutes.
But every time the hosts pressed forward Ex-Services were able to resist their advances and were able to counter, primarily through the speedy Haley Butcherine, who found herself in space on numerous occasions.
The middle stages of the second half belonged to the visitors as Dubbo's defence was tested on numerous occasions but their experienced backline held out time and time again.
As time ticked down it appeared as though Dubbo had done enough to claw their way to a draw before Ex-Services earned a short corner with just two seconds left on the clock.
With their entire team surrounding the circle they pushed hard and earned themselves another chance, but Dubbo's defence stood firm one last time to ensure both sides walked away with something to show for their efforts.
"The draw was a probably the right result in the end," Blue Jays coach Graeme Waters said.
"We started well but they hit back strongly, and credit to them.
"They had their chances there, particularly right at the end, but our girls did well to hold them out.
"We did a few things wrong in attack when we were pressing after the first goal that probably cost us a second but that will come. They're a young team and they're learning all the time."
Ex-Services mentor Mitch Kennewell echoed Waters' views on the game, admitting he was impressed with the standard of hockey played.
"It's never easy coming here to play. It's a different surface to what we're used to and Dubbo are a good side at home," he said.
"We were lucky not to be two or three down early so I was impressed with the way our girls hung in there and they got a lot of confidence when they got that goal back.
"We came here without a couple of players and I gave young Jess Pengilly the captaincy as we're trying to bring our young girls through and I thought she did well.
"In the end I think both sides deserved to get something from today. It was a good game to watch and the draw was a fitting way to end it, although it would have been nice to put one of those set pieces away right at the end."
DUBBO BLUE JAYS 1 (Maddie Bott) drew with ORANGE EX-SERVICES 1 (Jade Williams)