HORSHAM Saints have moved a game clear inside the top five after a five-goal win against Stawell at Coughlin Park on Saturday.
The fifth-placed Saints were level on points with the sixth-placed Warriors before the match, with an advantage on just percentage.
But the host opened up a four-goal lead at the first change a lead the Warriors, who were last year's preliminary finalists, could not overturn as they lost 46-41.
Experienced Saints shooter Sharon Fedke, 26 goals, formed a potent combination under the ring with Mikayla Rethus, 19 goals.
Keeper Marnie Lehmann was again named among the Saints' best, alongside wing attack Kate Janetzki.
Saints coach Di Hayes said she was pleased with her side's performance in a match that could shape its season. "It was a close win and we were certainly happy to win by five," she said.
"Our defence was fantastic Marnie was my best-on-court and our whole defence right down the court was really great.
"I was proud of the girls' intensity and the way they fought it out to the end.
"It was an important game to keep in touch with the top five and now we've got Dimboola, who are two points in front of us."
Hayes said the Saints' strong first term set up the win, with Fedke scoring 11 times, while centre Courtney Clough and Erin Mellington also impressed.
For the Warriors, Liza Cook led the scoring with 24 goals, while goal defence Ellen Williams and keeper Lisa Fleming were named the side's best.
A valiant Minyip-Murtoa performance was not enough to secure victory against Warrack Eagles at Anzac Park, Warracknabeal at the weekend.
The bottom-placed Burras kept pace with the Eagles in one of their closest results of the season, before succumbing to a 50-41 loss.
Goal defence Penny Fisher, mid-court player Petah Winsall and shooter Briodi McKenzie were named among the host's best.
McKenzie, 24 goals, and Megan Werner, 26, impressed as the Eagles moved six points clear of Dimboola in third place.
Horsham shooters Stephanie Thomson and Georgia Duncan put on a clinic at home at the weekend, as the undefeated Demons thrashed Nhill 69-36.
Duncan, 39 goals, and Thomson, 30, were named the host's best.
The Tigers were just two goals down at quarter-time, but the Demons proved too strong as the match continued. Emma Geyer and Charlotte King were named the visitors' best.
Second-placed Ararat proved too strong for fellow finals contender Dimboola, recording a 26-goal triumph at Dimboola Recreation Reserve.
Keeper Tiffany Boatman and wing defence Danielle Borrelli were named the Rats' best, as they recorded a 62-36 win.
Shooter Brianna King and centre Grace Braithwaite led for the Roos in defeat.
On Saturday, Horsham Saints will host Dimboola for fourth spot on the ladder, while third-placed Warrack Eagles will challenge Horsham at Brim.
Stawell will look to end its run of four consecutive defeats when it hosts Minyip-Murtoa, while Nhill will face a tough task at home against Ararat as it chases its first win of the season.