Pioneers show their steel

The OneFortyOne Pioneers women took another giant leap on Saturday night knocking off a star-studded Frankston Blues outfit in a classic NBL1 South encounter at the Icehouse.

The night was always going to be one to celebrate with the Pioneers having a toast for women’s head coach Matt Sutton, who represented the club for the 250th time as a coach or player, but his team ensured it will be remembered for a long time by winning 73-66.

It was a mighty effort considering the Blues roster included some of the best basketball talent in Australia led by Opals’ Olympian Tessa Lavey, plus WNBL quartet Chelsea D’Angelo, Kate Gaze, Ella Batish and Darcee Garbin.

Frankston showed what it was capable of instantly with Gaze shooting five points inside 30 seconds, while the home side missed its first four shots until Haliegh Reinoehl broke through.

This allowed the Pioneers to work their way back into the contest and after Cassandra Brown opened her account with a trio of scintillating threes, the scores were all tied up by the first break.

Mount Gambier’s transition from the defensive to offensive ends of the court was strong, but a slow start to the second term opened a door for Frankston to jump clear.

With Courtney Wilkins being a strong presence snaring defensive rebounds and Gaze shooting some hoops, the Blues looked the goods with an eight-point lead.

But the momentum once again swung the other way as the Pioneers made a charge just before the main break making maximum impact form turnovers.

Captain Jasmin Howe sparked the surge with back-to-back shots before Sherrie Calleia made some big plays and suddenly the Pioneers flew into half time with a 39-35 lead.

Frankston was a team on a mission in the third term and needed just 14 seconds to level the scores thanks to the sharp-shooting Ella Batish.

To the relief of the home crowd Mount Gambier responded with force to reconsolidate its lead and appear on track to setup a smooth passage into the final term.

But that was destroyed by a rampant Blues team, which punished the Pioneers on the turnover as the hosts struggled to find the basket in the final minutes of the third quarter.

With D’Angelo running hot and the scoreboard level, Frankston carried the momentum into the all-deciding final term.

As Saraid Taylor went on a run, the classy Blues appeared to be on their way opening up a seven-point lead, while the hosts were forced to take their most impactful player off the court.

But inspired by the home crowd, the Pioneers launched another fightback.

Gutsy work by Brown, Howe and Hannah Young helped level the scores to setup a grandstand finish.

After a small injury scare, Calleia returned to the court as a warrior and gritted her teeth to push for victory.

Calleia was everywhere, creating turnovers, drawing fouls and scoring 11 points in the closing stages to overcome the might of Frankston by seven points.

In addition to Calleia’s big 28-point performance, Shakera Reilly, Young, Reinoehl and Brown were relied on heavily, while the Blues’ top performer was Garbin.

The show-stopping win was the perfect present for Sutton on his big night.

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