Youth men win a heartstopper to stay undefeated

Jackson Grey's leadership and experience was critical on Sunday. 292959 Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS.

By Jonty Ralphsmith

Pakenham’s youth men had to overcome its biggest challenge of the season to remain undefeated in the Youth League 2 competition.

After a 79-62 victory on Saturday, the Warriors came back to win 80-78 on Sunday in a heartstopper against Warrandyte.

Down by seven points with 1:35 remaining, and 13 points with less than four minutes left, the Warriors found a way.

“It’s a win that instils a lot of confidence that we can dig ourselves out of any hole,” said coach Braden Venning.

Ethan and Aaron Small were clutch as Pakenham came from the clouds, keeping Warrandyte scoreless in the late stages and capitalising on their looks.

Ethan Small made a three with 3:35 on the clock to trim the margin to 10 and kickstart the comeback.

Aaron Small made a three 30 seconds later and then with less than two minutes on the clock, Jackson Grey (twice) and Riley Gray scored three twos to trim the deficit to just one point.

Within that period, Ethan Small and Grey combined for three critical steals to give the Warriors plenty of looks.

With 23 seconds on the clock, Aaron Small made both his opportunities from the freethrow line and Kaleb Beveridge made his first freethrow to extend the lead to two with three seconds on the clock.

Overall, Pakenham won the last five minutes 17-2.

With Riley Pollard already on the field, Jackson Grey was brought in for Luke Rawiri with just under five minutes on the clock as the Warriors opted for a bigger lineup.

From that point onwards, Pakenham got nine of the 13 rebounds as the gamble paid off.

“We locked in on defence, and started double teaming the ball a little bit and they tightened up and we ran over the top of them which was cool to see,” Venning said.

“Our defensive pressure was great, we got a lot of deflections.”

Warrandyte’s Nathan Aikmen was sensational, finishing with 25 points and 10 rebounds but was kept quite when the game was on the line

“We played some bigger guys and put pressure on the passes going into him,” Venning explained.

“He was getting a lot of his stuff from offensive rebounds so we wanted to keep him off the glass because we knew we could defend him one-on-one.”

Pakenham was jumped early by a team that a big win the previous night and did not lead until Aaron Small’s second freethrow gave them the lead with 23 seconds to go.

Despite the scoreboard, the coach was still pleased with the way the team played on the night, while lamenting their inability to make open shots.

“We’ve said all year that if we stick to our principles – good things happen,” Venning said.

“So it was good to see that with our backs against the wall, we made some shots and key defensive stops.

“Our leaders stood up; Jackson was important when we subbed him back in; Aaron’s IQ around the court was fantastic; Ethan made some big plays.”

Underlining Ethan Small’s impact, the Warriors were 20 points better when he was on the court – the only player with a plus-minus in double figures.

Pakenham was forced to grind the previous day again Whittlesea, ultimately getting away from them in the last quarter in a taxing affair.

The Warriors kept Whittlesea scoreless for the first 4:11 of the last quarter to create an unassailable buffer.

Riley Pollard had some key defensive stops; and Hayden Melsen hit two threes at clutch times late in the game.

“Different teams are throwing different things at us and testing us in ways we don’t expect and so far, we’ve been beating the test,” Venning said.

Meanwhile, the youth women’s game followed a similar narrative with the Warriors trailing for most of the day until the last five minutes, before winning 74-68.

Tylah Scorah (20 points, 12 rebounds, five steals) had a big finish to the game, making four clutch freethrows, to go with four assists, three rebounds, a block and a steal to finish the game.

Pakenham’s youth men have a week off before facing Melton at Cardinia Life while the youth women face bottom-placed Craigieburn on the road.