As the climax of the NBL1 South season approaches rapidly, the Castec Rural Mount Gambier Pioneers notched up a critical pair of victories in Indigenous round last weekend.
With the Pioneers one of 13 teams vying for a top eight berth, every game carries weight and they managed to navigate their way through a dangerous doubleheader against rivals Geelong and Sandringham unscathed.
The big weekend started on Friday night with a daunting trip to Geelong and Mount Gambier showed nerves of steel across four thrilling quarters.
Captain Tom Daly led from the front and his match-winning 40-point effort ignited the Pioneers’ charge in the opening 10 seconds.
With their leader on fire and more big names riding shotgun, the visitors raced out of the blocks took an eight-point lead into the first break.
But the scoreboard tightened up as the game went on with the home side fronted by Gabe Hadley, who was deadly behind the arc.
Mount Gambier coach Richard Hill said starting on the front foot in the away fixture was vital, which put the team in a good spot to deal with anything Geelong threw its way.
“We started well which is really important when you are playing on someone else’s court,” he said.
“We were able to establish some confidence early that we could play with them and it felt like we were in control all the time.
“Even though Geelong is a very talented team, we had a good game plan which helped us put points on the board during the ebbs and flows.” Little could separate the sides across the second and third terms as the Pioneers carried a five-point advantage into the last stanza.
A three-point jump shot from Isaac Turner put Mount Gambier on red alert straightaway, but it responded to creep to the relative safety of nine points.
However, there was one more twist in the tail as the Supercats made their last roll of the dice.
With less than two minutes to go Isaac Turner and Jack Macdonald put Geelong just one basket away, but Daly remained cool under pressure and shot his team to glory.
One night later the Pioneers were back at the Ice House to take on a revitalized Sandringham side.
The Sabres were no match for Mount Gambier back in round 2, but were a new beast with Melbourne United NBL player and former 2018 Pioneer Sam McDaniel.
Both sides scored 19 points in the first quarter and Hill conceded his men did not have an easy time of it on the court.
McDaniel was a thorn in Mount Gambier’s side all afternoon to keep the Sabres in touch despite the hosts maintaining a handy lead.
The former Pioneer threatened to spoil the show for the home crowd by scoring the first points of the final term, but the likes of Daly, Titus Robinson and Nick Marshall finished the game in style.
Hill said some swaps paid off as the home side pulled clear by 18 points to seal a ninth win of the season.
“We changed our defence up because we were struggling to contain McDaniel and their shooters and I think we got five stops in a row and scored on almost everyone,” he said.
“So we went from four to 14 points up in a short period of time and it was game over.
“We talked about being able to string together some stops all game because the Sabres kept coming back making shots to their credit.
“We shot the ball really well and everyone contributed on the score- board and Nick and Tom had really good weekends.” Robinson bounced back from being fouled out against Geelong to being one of six Pioneers to register at least 10 points.
Marshall and Daly led the way with 23 points each, but McDaniel remained the highest scorer of the match with 24.
The two wins shot Mount Gambier up to fourth position on the ladder, but Hill said there is no room for complacency with the ladder so fiercely contested.
He said another huge game against seventh-placed Kilsyth is on the agenda at the Ice House this Saturday night.
“Kilsyth just scored two big wins against high-quality opposition on the weekend, so it is really important to get the win,” he said.
“We played really well against them last time, but they were in it until the last few minutes, so we need to be at our best and it should be a hell of a game.”