Pioneers dig deep

The OneFortyOne Mount Gambier Pioneers pulled off something special on Saturday night when it overturned 12-point deficit to an unforgettable final-minute win over Nunawading.

After enduring defeat the previous week, the round 12 NBL1 South contest with fellow title rival the Spectres was always going to be a big one and it proved to be a fascinating battle with the momentum swinging back and forth.

The visitors proved they were ready for the battle instantly when Alice Kunek silenced the crowd with a big three pointer.

And after Cassidy Mihalko did the same and Kunek returned to nail back-to-back free throws, the Pioneers were staring down the barrel with the scoreboard reading 0-8 before the opening two minutes were completed.

Mount Gambier needed someone to stand up and the familiar face of Sherrie Calleia once again rose when required.

Calleia made five of the next six buckets as the Pioneers went on a surge to overturn the scoreboard.

A Cassandra Brown three completed the remarkable turnaround which saw the score swing from 2-10 to 17-10.

But the drama was not over and one last response from Nunawading’s Australian representative Kunek meant only one point split the sides at the first change.

The crazy opening term set the scene for the remainder of the night but there were no big swings in the second stanza as both sides did some shadow boxing.

After back-and-forth play, Mount Gambier was able to emerge on top by just four points after the fine work of Hannah Young and Brown.

While the Pioneers held sway at the main break, the Spectres rallied and stamped their authority when play resumed.

The visitors found their best at both ends of the court as Kunek and Rachel Antoniadou were on fire around the ring, shooting from all angles, while the defensive efforts of Mihalko and Megan Mullings forced Mount Gambier into mistakes.

The results of this charge were clear for all to see, Nunawading’s two-point percentage for the third term was an impressive 83.3% while the Pioneers were shooting at a lowly 10%.

This allowed the Spectres to storm to 10-point lead after outscoring the hosts 29-15 across the commanding passage of play.

It appeared the Spectres lived up to their name and looked set to break everyone’s hearts, but just like in the James Bond films, the favourite character Mount Gambier found something special to destroy the nemesis.

Team leaders Brown and Howe sparked the comeback with a series of two pointers to pull Nunawading within reach.

After the fast start to the quarter, tensions rose during a quiet three-minute spell where neither side could break free from nerves and defensive pressure.

While the Spectres would have felt on top enjoying an eight-point lead as the end approached, the Pioneers threw themselves back in the mix thanks to big plays by Howe and Young to level the scores with two minutes remaining.

Antoniadou was able to rebuild Nunawading’s advantage to three points, but that was instantly cut back to one after Reinoehl scored a timely layup – then it was the turn of the Pioneers’ defence to steal the show.

Brown used her height to stop some of the Spectres’ final shots, while the result went down to a one-on-one stoush between Young and Piper Dunlop.

To the delight of the home crowd, Young was able to pounce on the loose ball and create the perfect opportunity for Howe to score a critical layup which pushed the Pioneers into the lead with 23 seconds left.

Despite the score, the Spectres still had one more chance to hit the basket, but the Mount Gambier defence had an answer and forced the visitors into a shot clock violation.

This was the final chapter of a heroic comeback by the Pioneers which sets them up for another big home game against Launceston this Saturday night.

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