By Jackson Russell
Wallan Panthers started their Country Basketball League season off on the right foot with wins to both men’s and women’s teams in their road double-header against Shepparton Gators on Sunday.
The Panthers’ men were able to hold on for a 79-74 overtime win after being tied at 67 at the end of regulation.
Wallan led by 12 points with six minutes to go before Shepparton mounted a comeback, including back-to-back threes to tie the game.
The Gators had a shot to win on the buzzer but missed, sending the game to overtime where Wallan’s defence allowed just seven points to hold on for the win.
Wallan got the job done from close range with only three baskets coming from three-point range.
Max Viitala was on fire for the Panthers, dropping 39 points from 15 made baskets while Luke Liesegang chipped in with 12 points.
Viitala got the better of Shepparton’s Atem Atem, who had 28 points, on both ends of the floor.
Wallan men’s coach Tim Annett said Viitala was vital for the Panthers but the team defence was key to the win.
“He had a really tough matchup against their marquee Atem Atem which was huge for us. To work as hard as he did at both ends and still score 39 was huge,” he said.
“We’ve been working really hard on our defence in the preseason. We’re a talented offensive team so for us to win, we need to work hard on the other end of the floor and I think that was key to the win on Sunday.
“It was a tough game and we’re looking forward to Wangaratta this week, which will be an interesting game.”
The Panthers’ women were more convincing in their 66-47 win over the Lady Gators.
Wallan was in trouble early as Shepparton opened the game with an 11-1 run before Wallan responded with a 10-0 run of their own to go into break trailing by one point.
The Panthers started to break away in the second period, holding the Gators to eight points and opening up an 11-point half-time lead.
Shepparton fought back in the third term but couldn’t close the gap, which remained at 11 points at the final break.
The Panthers put the clamps on Shepparton in the fourth quarter, only allowing nine points to run the Gators off their own floor.
Carley Cranston led the Panthers with 16 points from seven shots while Macy Byrnes (12 points) and Karina Marasco (10 points) also made strong contributions.
Wallan women’s coach Ben White said it was really good to get a first up win.
“We started the game down 11-1 and I spoke to the girls prior to the game and during the first quarter about it being rough early but to get back to within a point at quarter time, then really put the foot down was good to see,” he said.
“For us, throughout the pre-season, we really focused on our defence and being renowned for our defence. We really tightened the screws in the second and fourth, which was a testament to our both our starters and bench who were able to come out on the floor and get repeat stops time and time again.
“It’s great to see women’s basketball in the summer up and running and we hope we can get a few supporters down to our first home game this week against Wangaratta.”