The Castec Rural Mount Gambier Pioneers men hit the floor for the first time in over a month and showed few signs of rust last weekend as the NBL South season gathers steam.
On a tough Victorian road trip, the Pioneers played two competitive games in as many days against Kilsyth Cobras and Nunawading Spectres in round 11.
Despite coming up against an in-form Cobras side first on Saturday, Tom Daly’s team dug deep to win by 10 points.
Another strong performance followed against the Spectres, but Mount Gambier could not stop the hosts this time and lost by nine points.
Castec Rural Mount Gambier Pioneers coach Richard Hill said he was pleased with how his team returned to the court against match-hardened opposition.
“We played really well in both games and I was pleasantly surprised after a fair lay off,” he said.
“I felt we could have won both of them, but Nunawading played exceptionally well and got punished every time we made a mistake.
“We could not shake Kilsyth and both teams played a hard standard game.
“Collectively it was a very good weekend.” Mount Gambier hit the ground running in Kilsyth’s backyard by scoring the first six points of the game and not letting go of the lead until the end.
The Pioneers controlled the first half and opened up a 10 point lead, but the Cobras never disappeared and pulled the deficit back to six during a strong third term.
Eventually the visitors proved too strong for the home side with Titus Robinson the star scoring 27 points and seven rebounds.
Hill said he always felt confident his team was going to get the job done.
“I did not feel like we lost control of the game, but that does not mean you are going to get over the line,” he said.
“We were very solid with contributions from everybody.” Reigning NBL1 South premier Nunawading proved to be the slightly stronger team in Sunday’s competitive contest.
The Spectres emerged on top following a high-scoring opening term and increased the advantage to double figures at the stroke of half time.
Nunawading’s clinical performance was headlined by five players, who pushed their scoring tallies past double figures led by Dain Swetalla with 26 points and 10 rebounds.
Mount Gambier captain Daly led from the front with a game-high total of 27 points and seven assists, but despite strong support from Dawam, Nick Marshall and Tom Kubank, they could not overturn the result.
Hill said his team battled hard after things did not go its way early.
“We probably played even better on Sunday,” he said.
“We got in foul trouble with three starters on the bench early and they shot 18 free throws in the first quarter which was absurd and put us out of balance a little bit.
“They are a championship quality team and played like one, but we hung tough and every time we got close they would sink a couple of threes.” Another doubleheader awaits the Pioneers in round 12 with the side travelling to Geelong tomorrow night to take on the Supercats.
It will not be an easy game with Geelong sitting third on the ladder and winning four consecutive games.
But the big highlight will be Saturday night when Mount Gambier returns to the Ice House to host Sandringham.
Although the Sabres sit at the bottom of the ladder, they just scored their first win of the season and Hill anticipates a tough fight.
“Most teams are adding players at the moment, even Sandringham has added Melbourne NBL winner Sam McDaniel, so we have a tough weekend ahead,” he said.
“Geelong will be heavy favourites, but we need to start chalking up the wins.”