The Pioneers men’s side staked their claims as title contenders on Saturday night when they overcame a tough North Adelaide opponent by 17 points to improve to a 4-2 record on the season. The win made amends for a disappointing loss to the Rockets in their round one opener earlier in the season.
Kentrell Barkley wasted no time getting the Pioneers on the board and the fans back in their seats with a strong drive to the hoop providing the perfect start for the home side. From the outset you could see that this would be a dogfight for the ages, with neither side backing down from the challenge before them. Barkley was once again doing it all for the Pioneers and kept his side in the contest with 10 points and 5 rebounds in the opening term. A combined team effort from the Rockets was proving a difficult assignment for the Pioneers with all five starters getting in on the action. Alex Starling proved to be the leading performer for the visitors with his 9 points and 3 rebounds to start the game proving pivotal in helping his side establish a narrow three-point lead after one quarter of basketball.
After a quiet start to the game, the Pioneers needed their captain Tom Daly to come to the fore and he did just that as he added nine points in the second term to provide the perfect foil for Barkley who continued to pile pain on the visitors. A crucial 16-4 run from the Pioneers mid-way through the term ensured they erased a five-point deficit and formed a seven-point lead with 2:30 remaining in the half. The Pioneers were making it count from the line with a 90% success rate giving them the edge in that category over the Rockets who were unable to make their opponents pay for ill-discipline and shot just 71% from the line to half-time. A late buzzer beating three from Gabriel Saldavia ensured the Rockets regained momentum and went into the main break trailing by just five points. Barkley led the way for the Pioneers with 19 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals and Tom Daly played the supporting role with 11 points. For the Rockets, Starling led the way with 12 points and 5 rebounds and Jack McVeigh was a presence in the paint with 8 points and 8 rebounds.
North Adelaide were keen to quiet the parochial Pioneers crowd and get on a run but although they scored the first points of the term via Tobias Dowdell, they could not break free of a persistent Pioneers outfit. Two successful free throws from Starling cut the Pioneers advantage to just two points before once again the Pioneers answered, this time via a 9-2 run fuelled by the offence of Barkley, Sam Daly and DayJar Dickson which created a nine-point Pioneers lead. The highlight of the third term was a devastating dunk from Dickson who baptised his defender as the Pioneers fans collectively picked their jaws up from the floor. The two sides continued to trade baskets as time wound down in the third with the Pioneers keeping the Rockets at arm’s length, taking a 10-point lead into the final term.
With 25 points and 13 rebounds to his name, shutting down Kentrell Barkley had to be the main focus of the Rocket’s conversation heading into the last term. To their credit they did just that, restricting the Pioneers marquee player to just 4 points and 2 rebounds to close out the game. Unfortunately for the visitors, such focus on Barkley allowed Dickson to roam free and he went to work putting up a classy performance, amassing 10 points and 4 rebounds for the quarter. Brad Rathjen also stepped up his game as he added 7 of his 11 points in the final term. Despite having all starters in double figures from a scoring perspective, the Rockets lacked a noticeable match winning performance from one of their star players and it showed in the end as Barkley and Dickson were able to combine and provide stand-out performances that got the Pioneers over the line. The Pioneers were once again able to go on a run offensively as they put on a 10-2 clinic that saw them edge ahead by 17 points with just 29 seconds remaining. The win was topped off by another devastating Dickson dunk courtesy of a Tom Daly dime right on the buzzer as the Pioneers prevailed by 17 points, with the scoreboard indicating a 105-88 win. Kentrell Barkley led all scorers with 29 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists and 4 steals, Tom Daly added 24 points, 4 assists and 3 rebounds and DayJar Dickson put up 19 points and 10 rebounds. For North Adelaide, Alex Starling led the way with 18 points and 7 rebounds, Jack McVeigh provided 16 points and 11 rebounds and Tobias Dowdell was solid with 15 points, 12 rebounds and 3 assists.
Both teams will now enjoy the week off for Easter before the Rockets match up with Southern Tigers on Anzac Day at home and the Pioneers travel to Adelaide to face Forestville on April 27 at Wayville.