NEWCASTLE struggled to score down the stretch in a season-opening 54-48 Waratah Basketball League loss to Sydney Comets at Alexandria on Saturday night.
In the first game of their championship defence, the new-look Hunters clawed back from a 10-point deficit early in the fourth quarter to trail 50-48 with three minutes and 19 seconds remaining.
But Emily Keith's lay-up at that stage of the game proved to be Newcastle's last points as the Comets closed out the contest on a 4-0 run.
Coach Mark Gledson was satisfied with his inexperienced team's first-up performance because he had called up three players from Newcastle's Youth League squad to bolster numbers.
The five-time Women's NBL MVP Suzy Batkovic will not make her Hunters home-coming until April 22 at home against Bankstown.
"Overall, I was very pleased with the effort by all, and it was good to see some of our Youth League women experience the next level of play," Gledson said.
Canadian guard Cherub Lum scored a game-high 17 points in her Newcastle debut and added five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
Hunters captain Alison Ebzery worked hard for her 16 points and 14 rebounds, and Emily Keith also compiled a double-double, scoring 12 points and pulling down 10 boards.
"Cherub is a great find for the club," Gledson said. "She understands the game very well and contributed in all aspects of the game, so she's been a great acquisition.”
Former Hunter Samantha Hewitt had 10 points and nine rebounds for Sydney.
Maitland continued their strong start to the men's league with a 90-86 win at previously unbeaten Norths Bears to improve their win-loss record to 3-1. Newcastle's men's team had a bye.