Merrivale coach Carly Peake would have been beaming from her hospital bed after getting word from her sister that the Tigers had clawed their way to equal points with the Warrnambool and District league's top side Nirranda.
The Tigers were coached by Cloe Pulling and Nicole Ferguson after Peake was struck down by illness.
But a confident 41-24 victory over Dennington (fourth) meant Merrivale (second) gained a two-match buffer over Old Collegians (third) and Saturday's opponent.
Pulling said the win was made sweeter by the fact young gun Tatum Cassidy put in her best performance of the season.
Cassidy was placed on dangerous Dennington player Ange Northcott at wing defence and thrived in an engrossing tussle, according to the stand-in coach.
"Tatum has really stepped up from juniors," Pulling said.
"She took on board a few things Carly taught her, which was great to see.
"Her and Nicole (Ferguson) worked well together, along with Chantelle (Moloney) to stop the ball even getting into their ring during the first half."
Dogs coach Josie Bolden rued that Merrivale handled the tough conditions better than Dennington and said her side needed to be stronger on the ball when it hosted Kolora-Noorat next week.
"They really put their bodies on the line at all costs," she said. "And that was where they managed to get intercepts and turn the ball over."
Meanwhile, fifth-placed Timboon Demons have given their finals chances a boost with a 52-48 victory over third-ranked Old Collegians.
Demons coach Leah Sinnott said the team had done "a bit of analysis" and believes the highest it can finish is fifth.
She said the Dees' round 17 match-up against sixth-placed South Rovers, who defeated Kolora-Noorat 47-31 on Saturday, would prove season-defining.
Sinnott said she was proud of her team's performance against the Warriors, having learned lessons from their early season defeat to the Davidson Oval-based team.
"The first time we were up at three-quarter-time and they came back at us," she said.
"We knew we had the game to beat them, it was a matter of stringing it all together."
Sinnott said the Demons skipped out to a double-figure lead before the Warriors made them nervous.
"They came back in the last quarter and upped the pressure and voice on court and we buckled a bit," she said.
Hayley Plozza's efforts in the Dees' goal circle and defensive duo Emily Jansen van Beek and Hollie Castledine were considered crucial to their success.
East Warrnambool scored its first win of the season, edging out Panmure 46-44.
The victory lifted the Donna Chatfield-led Bombers off the bottom of the ladder with Allansford, which suffered a 47-29 defeat to Russells Creek, taking its place.
Brooke Southwell sunk 30 goals for the Bombers.
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