In its first home game in over five weeks, the OneFortyOne Mount Gambier Pioneers women put on an unforgettable show for the specta- tors in the NBL1 South Indigenous round at the Ice House on Saturday night.
Less than 24 hours after a tight loss to Geelong, the Pioneers showed no fatigue and went at a strong Sandringham Sabres side 100% to secure their third win and easily the biggest of the year.
The Sabres missed the services of Australian Opal Jenna O’Hea and could not match the home side which stormed away during a first-quarter blitz.
Despite a slow start from both teams, Mount Gambier captain Jasmin Howe got the ball rolling with an 11-point run.
She almost tripled Sandringham’s first-quarter tally of four points as the Pioneers’ defence was rock solid.
After a dominant opening 10 min- utes the home side was red hot with a 18-4 lead, but coach Matt Sutton said the start could have been even better.
“We were getting plenty of good looks, but we just were not converting to get off to the start we wanted,” he said.
“But our defence was strong and they missed some opportunities which worked in our favour.
“Once we started to get the ball through the hoop we got a run on, so it was pleasing to get such a good lead.” After Mount Gambier’s great start, the Sabres regrouped and switched their defensive structure which “rat- tled” the home side.
The momentum suddenly swung the visitors way as Elyse Kipolks led a 37-19 point turnaround across the second and third terms.
By the eight-minute mark of the third quarter, the scoreboard was locked at 41 apiece and fans braced themselves for a nail-biting finale.
But they had did not need to worry as the Pioneers hit back in dramatic fashion.
On the cusp of three-quarter time, Sherrie Calleia turned the game around with a series of steals in front of the visitors’ ring.
The likes of Shakera Reilly, Madeline Wormald and Hannah Young made Sandringham pay by nailing every scoring opportunity.
In less than a minute Mount Gambier looked comfortable again carrying a 13-point lead into the final break.
Sutton said Calleia played a vital part in the defensive push which changed the game.
“We turned our defence into offence because we had to find other avenues to the hoop,” he said.
“We were lucky Sherrie was able to make some really nice defensive plays to get us running into the open court.
“That opened up the floodgates and Sherrie was crucial in terms of moving the ball and finding her team- mates and she also did a great defen- sive job on Amy O’Niell, who is an out- standing player for them.” Calleia’s turnovers sparked a 42-10 run for the Pioneers as they cruised home in style winning by 32 points.
She almost collected a triple-dou- ble and Howe was the best of the four Mount Gambier players to collect double-figure scoring tallies, while just one Sandringham player matched that feat.
The opening leg of the double header was not quite as cheerful when the Pioneers returned home from Geelong on the wrong side of an arm wrestle.
An away fixture against the side in finals contention was never going to be easy, but Mount Gambier made life even harder with a poor start.
The Geelong Supercats were firing on all cylinders swishing half of their three-point shots to race to a 14-point lead before the first break.
It was not until the three-minute mark of the second quarter when the Pioneers kicked into gear and started to turn the tide.
Sutton said his side’s struggle to get off the mark was tough to take considering how it impacted the final result.
“The first quarter hurt,” he said.
“Our focus and application to detail hurt us for the rest of the game and if we handled that stuff better there is a good chance we could have had a more positive result.” However, captain Howe was inspi- rational scoring 27 points as Mount Gambier mounted a case for an unlikely win.
With less than three minutes left, a successful long-range shot from Howe cut the deficit down to just three points.
After the leader brought her team back in the game with another three- point play in the dying stages, the Pioneers were hunting for a miracle.
But Antoniette Emma-Nnopu ended all of Mount Gambier’s hopes, block- ing the visitors’ final attempt to secure the 80-75 win for Geelong.
Howe was the hero with 27 points, but Sara and Stephanie Blicavs were too strong for the Supercats scoring 23 points each.
Sutton said he believed the Pioneers could have achieved an upset.
“I had real belief in that last period when we got within three points,” he said.
“We had all of the momentum, but sadly the ball did not go in the hole at the crucial moments.
“I was very proud of their efforts to fightback and give ourselves a chance.” After the dramatic doubleheader completed a run of four games in seven days, Mount Gambier has just one home game against Kilsyth this Saturday night.