Pioneers men score valuable points as season put on hold

During a weekend where the NBL1 South competition slowed to a halt, the Castec Rural Mount Gambier Pioneers men were lucky to hit the courts and take home some important points. After the Victorian lockdown was imposed hours before round 7 tipoff, all games aside from the two Pioneers’ fixtures were postponed.

However, after some last-minute changes to the flight itinerary, the team pressed on and recorded a sterling win over ladder-leader North West Tasmania. The doubleheader in the Apple Isle also consisted of a fight with Hobart, which proved unsuccessful, but with all things considered coach Richard Hill was comfortable with the results.

“We still would have had to get on a plane on Friday morning, but it just took a little bit longer to get there, so we did not stress and dealt with something a little bit different,” he said. “It did mean we spent a long time travelling, but we eventually got there, so it was all okay. “We did not play great on Friday night, but played exceptionally well on Saturday night.”

Instead of taking the usual route to Tasmania via Victoria, Mount Gambier was forced to make extra stops in Adelaide and Sydney on Friday morning to avoid the COVID-battling state. It was clear the long journey had an effect on the players ability to hit the ground running as they struggled to make an impact early against the Chargers.

The Pioneers were able to attack the key and create chances, but they could not find the net as almost every shot fell short. Early Hobart also battled to find rhythm to keep the visitors in the game, but as the disparity continued behind the arc, the home side’s lead grew. At its greatest, the Chargers led by almost 40 points, while Mount Gambier only hit a single triple from its first 11 attempts.

Hill did concede the less-than-ideal preparation put his team on the back foot, as frustrations escalated after each missed shot. “There was no doubt the boys were a bit lethargic after spending the best part of six hours on an airplane, but we actually played okay and could not make a shot,” he said.

“Missing shots did impact on other areas of our game and it became a battle. “As the game went on where we probably mentally checked out a bit, but at the same time they played exceptionally well, shooting the lights out with a good game-plan and were clearly better than us.”

Despite the inevitable defeat, the Pioneers managed to salvage some pride in the final term with Duom Dawam and Tom Kubank leading the late charge. But it was not enough to prevent Hobart from recording an easy 107-79 win with Keon Sapwell and Jonathon Mines the architects. The Mount Gambier men managed to put the disappointment of Friday night behind them for the big clash against North West Tasmania 24 hours later.

Another slow start did not help proceedings, but unlike the night before, the Pioneers managed to claw themselves back into the contest just before quarter time. After seven strong minutes was rounded out by a Kyle Clark three-pointer, the Thunder’s lead exceeded double figures.

But as quarter time approached the likes of Titus Robinson and Tom Daly found their groove to launch the fightback. With Eric Burdon also running hot from the three-point line, Mount Gambier was on the charge and neutralised North West’s lead by half time before stealing the ascendancy in the opening minute of the third term. Hill said the team’s fighting spirit shone through.

“We started very similar to the Hobart game and did not make many shots allowing them to get a bit of a lead, but we hung tough and pulled things back in our favour,” he said. “By half time we had the momentum and the game was on our terms for the rest of the way as we played the best basketball of the year. “You can never get it all right, but our defence was rock solid and we attacked the basket with purpose.

“We thought that was probably a weaker link in North West’s defence, so they did foul a bit too much and we were able to get a few from the free throw line. “But it was down to our ability to put them under pressure around the ring and the fact we were able to bounce back from a horrible performance the night before after a lot of travel was very pleasing.”

Daly had the best performance of his season with 27 points, while Burdon impressed with 21 as did Robinson with 15 plus 11 rebounds. Unfortunately the trio do not get the chance to continue their strong form this weekend with round 8 of the NBL1 South season expected to be postponed. The Pioneers were scheduled to cross the border and play Nunawading and Knox, but the Victorian lockdown will make things too difficult.

Hill said the unexpected break would give the team some respite from a tiring schedule which included six games in the month of May. “We would rather be playing, but the break will be good for us because we have a lot to work on,” he said. “I am not sure if the long weekend will be used to catch up some games, but with the COVID stuff we can’t look into the crystal ball and just take things as they come.”

Mount Gambier enters the break well placed sitting third on the ladder behind Frankston and North West Tasmania.

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