By Russell Bennett
The Pakenham Warriors hardly needed any reminding that there’s more to life than just basketball, but on Saturday at ‘The Colosseum’ at Cardinia Life they showed just what was possible when the local area’s biggest sporting association banded together behand a cause much larger than their own.
For their latest triple-header – games featuring all three of their Big V representative teams; the Division 2 senior men, the Division 2 Youth League men; and the Division 2 Youth League women – they were all decked out in pink for a night to raise some much-needed funds for Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA).
All told, the Warriors raised a grand total of $2,934.05 through donations and fundraising activities and pink was the colour of the day for players, coaches, support staff, and fans alike.
Pakenham and District Basketball Association president Alan Lee said it was touching to see the community embrace the event with such enthusiasm.
“Pink Sports Day is an amazing show of support for locals affected by breast cancer,” he said.
“One of the reasons we participated in Pink Sports Day was to ensure local women and their families know that they don’t have to go through breast cancer alone, and that our community is right behind them.”
Nearly 50 Australian women every day will be told they have breast cancer.
According to Cancer Australia, this year it’s estimated that the risk of an individual being diagnosed with breast cancer by their 85th birthday will be one in 14 – one in 715 males, and one in eight females.
On Saturday, the Warriors held their first ever Pink Sports Day following the news that Lisa Pollard, the 33-year-old sister of Warriors Youth League men’s coach Darren Thomas had just been diagnosed with breast cancer.
The day kicked off at 4pm with Thomas leading his side up against the Western Port Steelers and the clash went right down to the wire with the Steelers stealing a one-point victory – 60-59 – with a banked three-pointer in the dying stages from Brittney Suarjaya. She led the way for her team with 17 points, 8 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocks while Ellie Coutts finished with a 12-point, 16-rebound double-double to go along with four blocks for the Warriors.
In the second game of the triple-header, Simo Pajdic’s Youth League men turned the tables to win a tight one of their own – by just two points against the visiting Wallan, 65-63.
Though the two teams entered the clash on contrasting ends of the ladder – Pakenham leading and Wallan winless through their first 19 games of the season – the Panthers took the game right down to the wire, before Warriors point guard James Magrath – in his milestone 100th Big V game – picked up a crucial steal and assist that led to a layup for the home side.
Big men Lewis Newman (15 points and 8 boards) and Matt Berkec (17 points, 10 boards, and 3 steals) led the way for the home side while Lee Belton also had 14 points.
Fittingly, the showpiece game of the night also went right down to the wire – capping off a great night of basketball for the vocal home crowd.
This time the Panthers prevailed, 99-98 in overtime.
Just before the opening tip, Warriors coach Brent Russell spoke about the importance of executing both offensively and defensively and his side had its struggles on both ends at stages throughout the contest.
Pakenham welcomed back a pair of star forwards for the contest – skipper and new dad Ben Gaze, and Warriors favourite son James Topp – and they both had a genuine impact, particularly Topp who was outstanding with 29 points on 8-13 shooting and 13-17 from the charity stripe to go along with 13 boards.
But at half-time the Warriors lamented the offensive boards and second chance points they’d given up, and that proved to make a real difference.
With just a quarter left to play in regulation, the Warriors led by seven and Russell spoke about the importance of not trading buckets down the stretch – but through an entertaining fourth and overtime period that’s exactly what transpired.
Despite leading by 10 at one stage in the fourth, the Warriors trailed late by three before a free-throw, offensive board, and layup forced overtime.
In the last, the Panthers found just enough on both ends to edge ahead by the narrowest of margins.
Big man Josh Bjelan finished with 17 points and 6 boards in the absence of Brad Bridgewater, while shooter Rob Maartens finished with 15 points including three treys.
Funds raised from the Pink Sports Day will go directly to BCNA to support its work ensuring Australians diagnosed with breast cancer receive the very best support, information, treatment, and care appropriate to their individual needs.