Pioneers hold nerve

The Castec Rural Supplies Mount Gambier Pioneers men’s team showed nerves of steel to walk away from their brutal road trip undefeated against the odds on the weekend.

The 14th round of the 2022 NBL1 South season shaped up to be one of the toughest for the Pioneers, travelling big distances to face two of the top Victorian teams on their home patch in back-to-back matches.

It all started at Bendigo on Saturday night where Richard Hill’s team became the first side to beat the Braves since May, 11 games ago.

The breakthrough win was not decided until the final minutes as the top title contenders threw everything at each other across four breathtaking quarters.

Mount Gambier was on the back foot early after Sidy Mohamed Djitte and Kuany Kuany hit the basket hard, but some nice plays from Tom Daly and Nick Marshall provided an immediate response.

This sparked a grand start for Marshall, who shot 10 points inside two minutes to power the Pioneers into the lead.

He was electric from below and above the three-point line and also used resources such as Michael Harris and Clevon Brown to wow the crowd.

When Jordan Rawls sunk a three, Mount Gambier looked to be steaming towards the first break with a solid eight-point lead.

However, Bendigo showed why it is the current ladder leader, cutting the deficit down to just two points at the change.

With Kuany making shots from tight angles and Harris having his say, the second term was an enthralling affair where the momentum shifted multiple times.

By the time the main break arrived only a solitary point separated the sides, with the Pioneers’ main concern finding a way to limit damage done by Kuany who had already raced past the 20-point barrier.

Although Kuany’s momentum was reined in during the third term, the action did not stop.

In the opening seconds a stunning block by Djitte on Clevon Brown lifted the roof of the stadium, but before anyone could blink Tom Kubank silenced the crowd by swishing a shot for three.

This play summed up the quarter as the lead swapped hands on multiple occasions before the efforts of Jake Lloyd, Djitte and Mitch Clarke meant Bendigo held sway for the first time at a break.

But with only two points the difference on the scoreboard, the game was still in the balance and nails were bitten until the final buzzer.

In exhilarating end to end basketball Kane de Wit stepped up initially for the Pioneers before Djite and Luke Rosendale found some form.

No one was certain what the result would be as the difference between the evenly matched teams never eclipsed five points as neither side could break free.

But with less than five minutes to go Mount Gambier was finally able to gain some momentum at a much-needed time.

A couple of Marshall steals created the opportunity for Brown, Kubank and Harris to open a four-point lead.

This advantage was maintained until the final 90 seconds when a Rosendale jump shot reduced it to just a single point.

Suddenly nothing was certain and the final minute was littered with rebounds and missed shots.

Eventually the previously cool Braves cracked under pressure and an unsportsmanlike foul to Mitch Clarke gave the Pioneers some timely free throws to seal a five-point win.

Less than 24 hours after ending Bendigo’s crazy winning run, Mount Gambier met another title contender in Geelong and for the second time this season the rivals played a thriller.

Playing in their green uniforms Mount Gambier made some moves early with Marshall and Daly making shots and Harris opening a huge night with a dunk.

But after the halfway mark of the opening quarter, the Supercats found their best with Demarcus Gatlin generating speed and the likes of Isaac Turner and Gabriel Hadley doing the damage on the scoreboard.

Geelong went on the biggest scoring streak (12 points) of the game to take a commanding 26-17 lead into the first break.

But after just 90 seconds of play in the second stanza, the Pioneers were back in the game thanks to the efforts of Marshall and Erik Burdon.

However, the fightback was cut short by Hadley, who was on fire from beyond the arc and pushed Geelong to the largest lead of the game.

Being 13 points down with three minutes left in the second, the Pioneers needed to bounce back and a giant two-handed block by Brown lit the touchpaper.

Marshall, Daly and Harris then joined in on the fun with dynamic play to cut the difference down to six points by the main break.

After being on the back foot for most of the first half, the Pioneers were on a mission after the main break and only needed 148 seconds to retake the lead.

But once again the Supercats found a response and rebuilt a two-point lead by three-quarter time to set up another tense finish.

With Harris hardly missing from long range, Mount Gambier looked to be the team to beat across the opening passages of play of the all-important fourth term.

After just three and a half minutes, the Pioneers raced to a nine-point lead and had all the momentum.

But Geelong was not going to go down without a fight and after Hadley’s sixth three-pointer, it was anyone’s game with just three points the difference and more than two minutes on the clock.

Although the Supercats had a sniff, the visitors extinguished any signs of a home team win with Harris and Daly getting the job done.

Harris finished with a big 32-point haul, closely accompanied by Marshall with 25 which completed a big weekend for the pair.

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