LEVETT Essex Leopards must win their remaining five games if they are to have any chance of a top four finish after going down 51-48 against London Lituanica at the Brentwood Centre.
There were just 14 points in the points in the first period and that set the tone for the rest of the game.
Both teams came into the game short-handed, with Will Ashby and Dougie Bennett playing in the university final eight tournament, and Lituanica kitted up only seven players.
Tom Martin split a pair of free-throws to open the scoring after two minutes before scores from Courtney Van Beest and Hitchman put the home side 8-3 ahead with 3:37 remaining in the first period but that was the last time they troubled the scorers before the first break as Vaupsas cut the lead to 8-6.
Hitchman opened the second period scoring to launch a 12-2 run capped by a pair of Albert Margai foul shots as Leopards opened a 20-8 lead at the midway stage of the quarter.
That proved to be as good as it got for the hosts as Vaupsas converted back-to-back and-ones, and only Margai and Hitchman got on the scoreboard in the final five minutes of the second half as the home side took a 23-18 lead into the locker room.
That lead was wiped out with an 11-2 run to open the second half, only Tosin Oyelese getting on the scoresheet for Leopards, but scores from Brian Nguru and Jamie Hayes dragged the hosts back into the game, and Nguru hit a triple to give the hosts a 38-32 lead at the final break.
Ladi Brown hit one from three free-throws to extend the lead at the start of the fourth period but Kazlauskas hit a three to cap a 9-0 run from the visitors that gave them a lead they would never lose.
The hosts trailed by seven with 62 seconds remaining but an unlikely comeback looked possible as Hitchman scored before Margai stole the ball and set up Van Beest to make it a three point game.
Some tough defence forced a turnover with 13 seconds remaining but the Big Cats failed to even get a shot up as the Lithuanians held on for the win.