The One Forty One Mount Gambier Pioneers women fell agonisingly short of a maiden win in the second round of the 2021 NBL South season last Saturday night.
The young team embarked on its first road trip of the season and recovered from a slow start to push Sandringham all the way to the final buzzer.
Victory hopes appeared distant when the last quarter with the Pioneers 13 points short of the Sabres. But the inexperienced side rallied in the final term and its late charge was ignited by a successful three-point jump shot by captain Jasmin Howe.
The home team started to feel the pressure as the end neared as fouls and substitutions became a regular occurrence to stop play. With just over a minute left, two accurate three throws from Cassandra Hill appeared to put the Sabres in relative safety with a sixpoint lead.
However, Howe and Shakera Reilly had other ideas and both found the basket to bring the game down to the wire with two points separating the sides and 43 seconds left on the clock.
Mount Gambier continued its counterattack, but could not land the significant blow and Sandringham emerged victorious by just two points. Pioneers coach Matt Sutton said the closing stages were nail-biting and on another day the result could have landed in his side’s favour.
“I am proud of the girls for giving themselves a chance towards the end,” he said. “Our defence picked up, so the girls started to shoot with confidence right towards the end. “The girls created a really good scoring opportunity with Hannah Young, but the ball just did not go in.
“We then had another chance with 0.7 seconds left on the clock with a baseline play, but we did not quite get the job done.” The exciting finish did mask a largely disappointing game up until that point for Mount Gambier.
The Pioneers appeared to be matching the Sabres early, but a one-point deficient suddenly expanded to 16 during the third term. Sutton said some fundamental errors kept the Pioneers on the back foot in the second and third quarters.
“The issues lie in the middle part of the game where we went away from the simple things and had some basic errors,” he said. “But the Sabres are a good team and you cannot make mistakes against players the quality of former Opals Jenna O’Hea and Rachel Jarry and they made us pay.”
Although O’Hea enjoyed a 27-point outing, Sutton said one of the high points was Reilly’s effort guarding the Opals star. “I thought we made Jenna work pretty hard for what she did get and Shakera did an outstanding job on her,” he said.
“Hannah (Young) had a really good game in defence and I thought she outplayed Jarry getting lots of the ball in the last quarter which gave everyone confidence. “It was Johanna Jones’ first time on the court and she was super impressive with six points in her first outing.”
The Pioneers head back home this Saturday night for a battle with the Ringwood Hawks. With his side far from the finished product, Sutton said the home crowd should be treated to another close game.
“There are still some issues we need to iron out and part of that is our consistency of thought,” he said. “Ringwood has some quality WNBL players so we will have our work cut out and find ways to counter them.
“We will do what we can and I am sure the fans will be ready to make some noise.”