It came down to the wire on Saturday night as the Mount Gambier Pioneers men’s side edged out their highly favoured Forestville Eagles opponent by four points. The game was billed as an epic encounter with Forestville’s Kane DeWit taking on his old Pioneers teammates for the first time. DeWit played out of his skin and showed the Pioneers what they have been missing from him all season but the Pioneers would have the last laugh as they prevailed in a close one.
With both sides battling for positioning in the upper echelon of the ladder, it was no surprise that the match was tightly contested in the early going. The Pioneers rode the hot hand of x-factor Erik Burdon early on as he caught fire with 10 opening term points. Not to be outdone, Forestville answered with Greg Mays keeping the Eagles in the game with eight points of his own whilst DeWit and Michael Harris chipped in with six points each in the first quarter. The defensive efforts of Forestville were outstanding in the opening term as they quelled the Pioneers’ twin towers in Kentrell Barkley and DayJar Dickson, limiting their impact on the boards by boxing them out in the paint. A late basket to Pioneers young gun Matt Black saw the Pioneers draw within two points at the end of the first term, 24-26.
The Pioneers needed to make a statement and open the second quarter with a scoring run to get them going but Harris had other ideas as he took advantage of a quality pass from DeWit to knock down a trifecta from distance. Black provided the immediate answer for the Pioneers and the back and forth nature of the game continued. An 8-0 run by the Pioneers was just what they needed as Burdon, Black and Dickson created a five-point Pioneers lead. Adelaide 36er, Brendan Teys put the brakes on Mount Gambier’s momentum with a successful drive to the basket but the Pioneers continued to answer every challenge thrown at them by the Eagles and neither side could build a lead of more than five points. An emphatic slam from Mays helped the Eagles regain a one-point lead before Dickson responded with a dunk of his own to exchange the lead once more. Mays hit two free throws to bring the Eagles back within two points before Tom Daly hit money on a pull up jump shot with one second remaining in the half as the Pioneers took a four-point lead into half time. Erik Burdon led the way for the visitors with 14 points and 3 rebounds, DayJar Dickson had 8 points and 5 rebounds and Kentrell Barkley lived on the boards with 6 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists. For the Eagles, Greg Mays was leading scorer with 16 points and 7 rebounds, Michael Harris had 11 points and 2 assists and Kane DeWit had 9 points and 4 assists against his old side.
Coming out of halftime, the Pioneers were keen to be the first to trouble the scorer and did just that as Tom Daly hit another trademark pull up jump shot from mid-range. Not to be outdone, DeWit responded with a three-point dagger from distance as the two sides continued to go basket for basket. Five straight points to Harris brought the Eagles to level pegging with the Pioneers before Brad Rathjen found Barkley and he responded with a timely triple. The close nature of the contest made for riveting viewing with the back and forth play resembling a tennis match. An 8-0 run from Forestville looked to create separation between the two sides but the Pioneers continued to counter, largely via Barkley who took over the term with 9 points and 4 rebounds to register yet another double double. When Lachie Hunter nailed a floating jumper, the scores were locked away again at 70 apiece with 1:14 remaining in the term. Baskets to Harris and Teys saw the Eagles create a five-point lead before Barkley closed out the third term with another triple as the scoreboard indicated a 75-73 differential in favour of the Eagles.
With the game on the line, Dickson stepped up to the plate and got the Pioneers on the board first in the final term as he made his way inside with relative ease and tied up the ball game. The last thing DeWit wanted to do was lose to his old Pioneers cohorts and he responded with a layup that put the Eagles back in front. The next six points belonged to the Pioneers who found an easy path to the basket time and again as forwards Lachie Hunter and Dickson dominated inside. A dunk to Mays got the crowd on their feet and seemed to spark his side but it translated into a Pioneers run as Barkley and Burdon both hit triples and suddenly the Pioneers held an eight-point lead, their largest lead of the night. Back-to-back baskets from Mays and Harris cut the lead back to four points with still 3:30 on the clock. Two clutch free throws from Dickson gave the Pioneers some breathing space but the Eagles were unrelenting and kept on coming with a dunk from Mays and a three from Jake Rios cutting the Pioneers lead to one point. When Mays converted on a layup with 57 seconds remaining, the Eagles led by one point but it was a case of cometh the hour, cometh the captain as Pioneers leader Tom Daly calmly slotted a trey that handed the visitors a two-point advantage. The Eagles missed their last three shots and had to play the foul game to try and extend the contest. With the game on the line, Barkley stepped up to the line and sank both attempts to give the Pioneers a four-point edge and when Teys missed the final shot of the game it was all over and the Pioneers had recorded a clutch victory in enemy territory, 101-97.
It was Kentrell Barkley once again leading the way for the Pioneers this time with 23 points, 17 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals, Erik Burdon hit five triples on his way to 20 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists and DayJar Dickson dominated the paint for 14 points, 14 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocks. Michael Harris led the Eagles with 31 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals, Greg Mays had 29 points, 14 rebounds and 3 steals and Kane DeWit doubled up against his old side with 18 points, 11 assists, 5 rebounds and 2 steals.
The Pioneers now back up and face Woodville at St Clair on Sunday afternoon and the Eagles will look to get back into the winner’s circle when they meet South Adelaide at Marion on May 4.