Mount Gambier Pioneers vs Nunawading Spectres East Conference Final Match Review Friday 25 August 2017
The Mount Gambier Pioneers have done it again, taking all before them in their respective conference and reaching the National Championship Final for the fifth year in succession. The Pioneers were made to fight every inch of the way as the game came down to a last second missed three-point attempt from Nunawading’s Dain Swetalla which handed the Pioneers a nail-biting three-point victory.
The game was played at a pace befitting the occasion in the early going as defence was the order of the day and both sides shot nervously in the opening term with the Pioneers converting 26% from the field to the Spectres 33%. The Pioneers appeared rusty after a week off whilst the Spectres looked to be firing on all cylinders after coming off a memorable 42-point victory in the East Conference Preliminary Final.
With the Pioneers down 4-10, something needed to change and it would be a timely time-out from Pioneers Coach Richard Hill that would halt the Spectres momentum. The Pioneers would come out from the mini break to pile on a 7-0 run to edge ahead slightly but it would be the Spectres who would hold the advantage at quarter time 14-15 on the back of a Matt O’Hea triple. Despite dominating the early play, the Spectres did not dominate the scoreboard and that would prove telling in the final washup.
The Pioneers needed to find a way to get Daniel Alexander into the contest, because despite being present on the defensive boards he was missing in action on the offensive end going 0/5 to start the game. Whilst he kept his opponent in Dain Swetalla scoreless, the Pioneers needed a spark to generate improved offensive production and as he has done all season, Alexander stepped it up in the second term adding seven points to his seven rebounds. The second quarter belonged to the Pioneers who won the quarter 24-17 thanks largely to their second unit with Kane DeWit and Jack Madgen slotting important triples and John Jones providing inside scoring and roadblocking. Two late baskets from Simon Conn saw the Spectres cut the Pioneers advantage to just six points at the main break with the season MVP putting up a remarkable 18 points or 56% of the Spectres scoring in the first half.
The first half was a tale of two halves with the Spectres flying out of the gate in the first term only to be overtaken by a more efficient offensive performance from the Pioneers in the second term. With the championship quarter looming large, the time had come for one of these sides to take the prize on offer and it would be Nunawading who made the most of their opportunities. Dain Swetalla sprung to life with 10 third quarter points to bring his side within a point of the Pioneers at the final change. Tom Daly played a lone hand for the Pioneers in the third term putting up 11 of the Pioneers 20 points, singlehandedly keeping his side in the contest in a memorable captain’s effort. Daly’s opponent in Shane McDonald did manage to score five crucial points in the final 40 seconds of the term though with his three-point dagger on the buzzer breaking Pioneers hearts.
With just one point separating the two best teams in the competition this season and with just 10 minutes of action to play, there was no place for the faint of heart heading into the final term. The Pioneers needed to find a foil for Tom Daly who was carrying his side and it came in the form of Luke Jamieson. Jamieson became the centre of attention as he opened the term with a triple and would pile on 10 points in the final term just as his side needed them. The lead for either side would not exceed a basket for 6:52 minutes until a Brad Hill layup handed the Pioneers a four-point advantage with 54 seconds on the clock.
A Shane McDonald triple cut the margin back to a point and when Brad Hill missed with just seconds remaining it appeared the Pioneers perfect home record and their season were coming to an end. However, Shane McDonald’s shot would be sensationally rebounded by Daniel Alexander who was in turn fouled and headed to the line where his two clutch free throws gifted the Pioneers a three-point lead. With just 5.1 seconds remaining, the Spectres had one last shot at tying the game and with just 0.9 seconds on the clock, the ball found its way to Dain Swetalla who hoisted up a three-point attempt as the capacity crowd held their breath. The shot would miss and whilst the Spectres were quick to protest about a shooting foul on the play, it would fall on deaf ears as the referees exited the building. The Pioneers held on by the skin of their teeth to prevail 79-76 and secure their fifth consecutive conference title.
Tom Daly led the way for the Pioneers with 21 points and 11 assists, Luke Jamieson had 19 points and 6 rebounds and Daniel Alexander finished with 11 points and 12 rebounds. For the Spectres, Simon Conn had 27 points and 5 rebounds, Dain Swetalla put up 14 points and 9 rebounds and Shane McDonald added 14 points and 8 assists.
The Pioneers fifth consecutive conference crown places them as arguably the best basketball side to ever emerge from South Australia at any level. The Pioneers now earn the right to play South Conference champions, the Dandenong Rangers in next Saturday night’s ultimate showdown with the Pioneers looking to avenge their 2013 championship final loss to the Rangers.