Pressure on Pioneers to cement home finals

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Pressure on Pioneers to cement home finals

The Castec Rural Pioneers finished their double header weekend at Wulanda Rectreaction and Convention Centre with a win and a loss as they took down the reigning champions Knox Raiders for a second time this season while falling short the next night to the Andrew Gaze coached Melbourne Tigers.

Despite splitting the results, the Pioneers have retained their position at the top of the ladder in the NBL1 South Conference with a record of 16-5 with one game remaining in the regular season.

On Friday night the Pioneers came away with a hard fought eight point victory over Knox Raiders.

Both sides were evenly matched in the opening quarter as defence reigned supreme.

After coming off a performance where Knox held Nunawading to 47 points, their defensive intensity translated into this game as they held Mount Gambier to 12 points in the quarter.

The Pioneers were missing star player Nick Marshall for a second weekend in a row, with Akech Aliir stepping up for the home team to open the game with eight points.

At the end of the hard fought opening quarter the Pioneers trailed by five points.

After a poor performance in the first term the Pioneers responded in the second as they went on a 9-2 run to kickstart their fightback.

Mount Gambier began to break down the Raiders defence as they scored 26 points in the quarter while nailing four shots from behind the arc.

At the major break the Pioneers had clawed their way back into the game to hold a slim lead of two points.

In the new half the Raiders came out hot as they drilled three straight three pointers to snatch a seven point lead in the first two minutes.

However the Pioneers rallied to regain the lead, shooting the ball extremely well in the third term.

Mount Gambier only missed five field goals for the quarter which pushed them to a 10 point lead heading into the final term.

In the final period the Pioneers did well to control the game as they had their sights on the victory.

However the Raiders were not going to roll over easily as they made a late charge in the game.

Knox brought the game back to three points in the final two minutes when the heroics of Aliir came out to help seal the victory.

Aliir did it all at both ends as he nailed a big three then made a big block at the other end to deliver the victory, 93-85.

Aliir was the standout player on Friday night, finishing with a double double of 30 points and 10 rebounds while also having three blocks and hitting five threes off 50% shooting.

Other contributors for the Pioneers were Dylan Marshall who had 20 points off the bench and Titus Robinson who came into the starting lineup and finished with 16 points and a clutch three in the fourth quarter.

After the game Aliir rated the team’s performance following a tough win.

“There were a few lapses and what not where we could have done better but to stick through and hold it out I would give us a good eight,” he said.

“It was a good win against a tough team and we’re trying to hold that number one spot going into finals so it was a good outing.”

Aliir had extra reason to celebrate following the announcement that he will be spending time at Melbourne United over the summer in the NBL, signing a two year contract as a development player for the power house Melbourne club.

“It’s great, there’s great history in the organisation, lots of winning, lots of success and I’m looking forward to being a part of it,” he said.

“I’m looking forward to learning from as many people as I can, there’s guys there who have played at the highest level like NBA, Olympics and what not so just being a sponge and learning and taking what I learn into my own career.”

The Pioneers hit the court again on Saturday night as they took on the Melbourne Tigers who were coached by Australia basketball legend Andrew Gaze.

Both offences flowed in the opening term as the sides scored a combined total of 63 points in the quarter.

Once again Aliir carried the offensive load for the Pioneers as he contributed 18 points in the first quarter and went three for three from deep.

After the opening quarter the Pioneers trailed by five points.

The high scoring slowed down in the second quarter but both sides still regularly found ways to put the ball in the basket.

Mount Gambier could not break into the Tigers’ lead as they remained down by five points at the halftime break.

The Pioneers kept within striking distance in the third term, refusing to allow Melbourne’s lead to reach double digits.

After a poor shooting quarter from behind the arc the Pioneers trailed by six points heading into the deciding term.

Mount Gambier fought hard as they tied the game up with 90 seconds left in the final quarter.

However the Pioneers could not find a way to take the lead after tying the game as the Tigers went on a 6-0 run which helped them seal the win 91-86.

Aliir backed up Friday night’s stellar performance with another monster game, finishing with another double double of 35 points and 13 rebounds while continuing to be a reliable three point shooter, knocking down six threes with 66.67% shooting.

Post game captain Kane de Wit outlined what he believes the side needs to do to improve after the tough loss.

“Nothing is easy in this league, we played fourteenth and we have got Ringwood who is fifteenth so it’s another tough challenge next week,” he said.

“We need to make sure to get that and secure the top spot and get these two home finals and play in front of our great fans.”

de Wit was full of praise for Aliir’s stellar performance on the weekend and over the past couple of weeks.

“Akech has been really good for us over the last couple of weeks, he’s really stepped up in Nick’s absences and he’s done a really good job of leading us from the front,” he said.

This Friday night the Pioneers play their final regular season game as they take on the Ringwood Hawks at Wulanda.

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