The chase to finals in the 2022 NBL1 South Conference season is on and the Mount Gambier Pioneers are in the thick of the action.
Both the Castec Rural Supplies Pioneers men and OneFortyOne Pioneers women have been at the pointy end of the ladder all season, but now is when it counts.
With only four rounds left, the battle for the double chance in finals is heating up and every match becomes more important by the week.
This made the Mount Gambier women’s team’s stunning win over Nunawading extra special.
The Pioneers did it the hard way, overcoming foul trouble and a 10-point deficit in the final quarter to snatch the win from the Spectres’ hands in the dying seconds.
All the big players stood up, but one passage of play where a Cassandra Brown block was followed by a Hannah Young steal and Jasmin Howe layup made the big difference.
Although the side has become used to close finishes this season, OneFortyOne Pioneers coach Matt Sutton said it was one of the best.
“We had to fight back against an outstanding Nunawading team and I am proud of the girls’ ability to get back into the game,” he said.
“We had foul trouble across the second and third quarter, but we managed to alleviate that going into the last quarter which gave us the match-up defensively with how we wanted and it paid dividends.
“Jasmin and Hannah both made some big shots and Olivia Wormald won a loose ball despite not being in a good position to get it.
“For me it shows how much the girls will give that little bit extra to get the ball.”
It was Mount Gambier’s 13th win of the season which places them third on the ladder, one spot away from enjoying the double chance on its home court.
But with the top nine teams all split by just four wins, anything can happen and Sutton knows his team must remain at its best starting with this Saturday night’s home game against a strong Launceston Tornadoes outfit which has also won four of its last five games.
“I did a deep dive into the ladder scenarios and I decided it was just too hard,” he said.
“We just must put it all into the Launceston game and hope the result goes our way.
“They are awesome with world class Opals talent from Marianna Tolo and Keely Froling, but they also have good depth, so we will have our work cut out this week.”
The Castec Rural Pioneers men also scored a very timely win over Nunawading.
After losing four of their previous five games, Mount Gambier’s reputation as one of the teams to beat in the competition was slipping.
The group needed a boost and found it by scoring the 14 of the first 16 points to blow the Spectres away.
But Mount Gambier coach Richard Hill was more impressed with the defensive work of the team after this was an area addressed from the disappointing results against Sandringham, Eltham, Hobart and Kilsyth.
The likes of Nick Marshall, Tom Daly, Michael Harris, Clevon Brown and Jordan Rawls all collected regular rebounds to keep the Spectres to the relatively low score of 69.
“I was very pleased with Saturday night because our defence was the best we have had for a very long time,” he said.
“That was the area where we have been quite poor over the last few weeks so that was very encouraging.
“We improved a lot in the defence and rebounds because we had a lot more energy about us.”
The win was set up by the lightning start which gave Nunawading no chance of fighting back despite a more even affair following quarter time.
Hill said it was one of the brightest starts he has seen from his team in a while.
“We have not had a good first quarter at The Icehouse like that for a long time,” he said.
“Even when we did not shoot the ball well, our defence was good and to keep any team to two points across the first four minutes is great.
“You expect them to fight back because they are not an average team and we could not put them away, but we were still happy with the performance.”
Much like the women’s competition, there is no certainty around who will finish where in the captivating finals race in the NBL1 South men’s season.
Currently the Pioneers occupy second spot and a home qualifying final, but any slip ups will see them fall into the hands of the six teams sitting directly below them.
For Hill the equation is simple, just keep winning, but this Saturday night will not be easy with a developing North West Tasmania team coming to town being boosted by some JackJumpers NBL players.
“We have to get wins because we want to finish in the top four and preferably top two, but that is going to be hard with a tough draw,” he said.
“I think 16 wins is the number and we have 12 right now so we have to win four out of our last six.
“North West Tasmania had a slow start but have added three JackJumpers to their team.
“We will need another big effort against a really good opponent this Saturday night.
“We have taken a step in the right direction, which is really pleasing because we had not been very good in the previous few games.
“We have to winning games because it is a tough competition.”