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By Russell Bennett

The Pakenham Warriors’ Big V Division 2 men’s basketball team is off to the best start in its history after a commanding 90-73 win over fellow title aspirants, the Collingwood All Stars, at Collingwood College on Saturday night.
Brent Russell’s Warriors moved to 7-0 on the season after leading by just a point – 46-45 – at half-time.
While star Collingwood guard Manny Hendrix continued to look for his shot and to stay aggressive throughout the contest, Pakenham’s defensive pressure on him was stifling – restricting him to just 4-16 from the field in his 13-point, 10-assist double-double in front of a vocal home crowd.
Dylan Webb was stellar for the home side, draining 10 of his 15 attempts from the field to finish with 26 points, but the All-Stars ultimately had no answer for Pakenham’s transition game – both offensively and defensively.
At half-time in the rooms Russell lamented the opportunities the All-Stars were getting at second chance baskets, and also urged his men to eliminate the needless fouls that had plagued them in the early going.
He demanded a lift on the defensive end and called for his charges to bring a real ‘championship mentality’.
And in the second half, they displayed exactly that.
The Warriors’ transition game continued to have a real impact while they also hit the glass with a purpose.
Big man Brad Bridgewater had a series of spectacular highlight plays throughout the contest, including two jams (one on an alley-oop from Brad Szalek) and an emphatic rejection.
He finished with 16 points on a super-efficient 6-8 from the floor, while Szalek top-scored with 17 points on 5-9 shooting – including three triples.
Ben Gaze (14 points, 7 boards), Robin Maartens (15 points), Trent Lee (7 assists, 5 boards), and Nick Ross (13 points) – against his former side – also shone.
Following the contest, Russell spoke about the second half performance being the new standard for his group moving forward – highlighting, in particular, its start to the third quarter, which had been a trouble area in the season’s early going.
In the curtain-raiser on Saturday, Simo Pajdic’s ladder-leading Youth League Division 2 men were even more emphatic in their win over the All-Stars, 103-67.
The visitors were simply dominant, with Tobie Dean leading the way with 23 points on 8-14 shooting in a particularly even team performance.
Rounding out a trifecta of wins for the weekend, Darren Thomas’ Youth League Division 2 women were also brilliant on Sunday – defeating Blackburn by 17 points, 69-52, to hold on to third spot on the ladder. Ellie Coutts was once again brilliant with 16 points, 17 boards, 5 steals, and 5 assists in a stat sheet-stuffing performance.

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