Pioneers vs Melbourne Tigers Match Report- Friday 20 July 2018

Mount Gambier Pioneers vs Melbourne Tigers Match Report- Friday 20 July 2018

The Pioneers kept their faint post-season aspirations alive on Friday night when they overcame a tough Melbourne Tigers line-up by just four points. With the town painted red and the Pioneers sporting red uniforms in support of major sponsors McDonalds, the big question leading up to the match was whether the other Big Mac, Sam McDaniel would take the floor after missing the previous three weeks with injury. Pioneers Coach Richard Hill chose to roll the dice and activated his star import but he would see a limited role and monitored minutes coming off the bench.

The Pioneers drew first blood when Erik Burdon pick-pocketed Dexter Kernich-Drew and found Lewis Thomas who put the Pioneers on the board with a driving layup on their first forward foray of the evening. The offence of Alex Marzette, Lewis Thomas and Erik Burdon was on fire in the opening term as the Tiger’s defence struggled to close them out. The Pioneers big three combined for 20 of their side’s 24 first term points to create a double-digit lead heading into the first break. Despite outrebounding the Pioneers 13-8 in the first term, the Tigers were unable to make their opponents pay on the offensive end as they shot just 31% from the field to begin the contest. The Tigers also failed to take care of the basketball with six turnovers in the opening term handing the Pioneers all the momentum in the early going. 

The Pioneers were playing like a team with its season on the line and began the second term as they finished the first, with strong defence and fluent offence the order of the day. Luke Jamieson picked up where he left off last week as he piled on the Pioneers first six points of the term to stretch the home side’s advantage to 15 points. The Pioneers looked like a different side to that which was humbled in last week’s debacle against Geelong, as they provided a stronger paint presence, locked down on defence and shared the ball to find the best shot on a regular basis. Despite their strong start to the term, the Pioneers went missing on the offensive end as the quarter wore on and had to wait for the best part of four minutes between baskets. Melbourne were also struggling to convert from the field but they did manage to outscore the Pioneers on a 7-2 run that took seven minutes to complete. The Pioneers rallied late in the term, with Marzette scoring back to back baskets and Thomas nailing a buzzer beating triple to ensure the Pioneers headed to half time with a commanding 15-point lead. Lewis Thomas was providing strong two-way play with 13 points and seven rebounds in the first half, whilst Alex Marzette was the perfect foil with 10 points. For the Tigers, captain James Todd played a lone hand with six points and seven rebounds as his teammates struggled to impact the box score. 

The Pioneers were in a comfortable position but as has been the case all season, it would be the third term that would bring their season to the brink of destruction. It all started when the Tigers went on a 15-3 run to begin the second half, as Dexter Kernich-Drew, Maxwell Viitala and Deng Acuoth came to the aid of their captain and shot the lights out from inside and outside the perimeter. After just four minutes of play, the Pioneers lead had suddenly whittled down to just three points and the home fans were on the edge of their seats as the struggle got real. The Pioneers took more than four minutes to register their first basket for the term but once again shot back at their opponents with a 9-6 reply but the Tigers kept on coming and when Kernich-Drew beat the buzzer from downtown, the Tigers headed into the final term with a four-point deficit after outscoring the home side 25-14 in the third period.

With their season on a knife’s edge, the Pioneers needed to find an extra gear and it would come courtesy of veterans Erik Burdon and Tom Daly who combined for 11 of the Pioneers 17 final quarter points. The home side did not have it all their own way though, with the Tigers briefly taking a one-point advantage courtesy of a Patrick Bines triple. Unfortunately for the Tigers, that basket would be their last from the field for the best part of four minutes as the Pioneers built a seven-point advantage with 4:30 minutes to play. The Tigers kept the heat on the Pioneers via the charity stripe before back to back baskets to Kernich-Drew and Todd tied up the contest. With less than a minute remaining, El Capitan Tom Daly bobbed up with a crucial jump shot conversion before Burdon iced the game for the Pioneers with two successful free-throws. The Tigers were unable to find the quick basket and the game was over with the Pioneers running out victors by a slender four points. 

Lewis Thomas led the way for the Pioneers with 19 points and 13 rebounds, Alex Marzette provided 18 points and five rebounds and Erik Burdon chipped in with 12 points and five rebounds. For the Tigers, it was Dexter Kernich-Drew top scoring with 16 points, four rebounds and six assists, James Todd had 12 points and 11 rebounds and Deng Acuoth added nine points and 12 rebounds.

Upon reviewing the game, Pioneers coach Richard Hill “was pleased with how we came out of the blocks. We were aggressive at both ends of the floor, our defence sparking our offence”. At half time, “Melbourne made some adjustments and we responded poorly. Some defensive breakdowns and poor perimeter shooting put us under pressure”. “I was pleased with our improved defence and rebounding when it was required in the last few minutes” stated Hill. They may have been made to work for it but in the end the Pioneers gave their fans the perfect send-off for season 2018 with a hard-fought victory in their final home game of the season. 

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