The OneFortyOne Pioneers women brought their A game to Wulanda Recreation and Convention Centre on Friday night, downing the Ringwood Hawks to advance to the NBL1 South conference preliminary final.
The Pioneers turned giant killers, downing the defending champions by two points in the do or die semi final, much to the delight of the side’s fans.
The thrilling 74-72 win saw the Hawks eliminated from the finals race, in a match that went down to the wire.
The Pioneers will now travel to Bendigo on Saturday to take on the undefeated Bendigo Braves in a bid to make the championship final.
The Hawks signalled their intentions from the opening whistle, opening proceedings with a big three pointer in the first 20 seconds of play.
From there the first quarter was an arm wrestle, with the sides trading baskets until a three pointer from sharpshooter Miela Goodchild in the dying seconds of play had the Pioneers finish the stanza in front 20-17.
Youngster Keryl Ousey opened the scoring for the Pioneers in the second quarter as the home side jumped to a five point lead half way through the quarter.
But the Hawks rallied to regain the lead, before the Pioneers again charged and the quarter finished with scores level at 39-all.
The sides again went basket for basket in the first half of the third quarter, before the Pioneers pushed out to a four point lead, going into the final change up 60-56.
Ringwood clawed it back to a single point lead, before two big plays from Pioneers captain Cassandra Brown extended Mount Gambier’s lead to six points.
Again the Hawks rallied and overtook the Pioneers, leading by a solitary point, before a big three pointer from Isabella Brancatisano gave her side back the lead, with Mount Gambier hanging on to take the win 74-72.
Goodchild produced a match-winning performance for the Pioneers with 27 points, with Sherrie Calleia achieving a double double with 11 points and 11 rebounds, and Haliegh Reinoehl scoring 11.
Head coach Matt Sutton was delighted with his side’s ability to grind out a tough win.
“We were very happy to keep advancing and beat a side that has been a bit of a bogey side for us,” he said.
“It was very tense, we expected it to be that way given both their style and our style of play, they did a good job of taking some of our strengths away and we did a good job of taking some of their strengths away.
“We expected it to be a pretty tight one.”
Sutton said his players had been buoyed by the huge crowd cheering them on.
“It was an awesome crowd, it was a big reason we were able to get over the line,” he said.
“The community support has been good all year, it was really nice to finish our game at home with a win like that with such an amazing crowd”
Sutton said Goodchild led the way on Friday night, stepping up on the big occasion.
“We expected that from Miela, she’s not one to shy away, she didn’t have the game she would have liked against Geelong the previous week and she’s a pro, she trained really well and we could see a strong sense of focus, we’re not surprised she had such a fantastic game,” he said.
“We were really happy with the game, given we had some early foul trouble with Cass and Haliegh which put our mix out a bit, which it does when you have foul trouble.
“We were really happy with our ability to be as big as we could on the court, we thought everyone contributed in a big way.
“I thought Sherrie Calleia was a really big influence with 11 rebounds.”