PINELANDS SURE are happy they convinced a certain big-time guard to leave Clapham in the offseason.
Yes, Decarlo Skeete is certainly proving his worth.
The forgotten man had one of those performances to remember, scoring 21 points, including Smalta Pinelands’ last eight, to put them back in basketball’s Premier League finals via Saturday’s stunning 72-67 comeback win over Urban Vybz St John’s Sonics at the Barbados Community College.
It was a feat for the ages, most befitting a deciding Game 3 that went down to the dying seconds in a back-and-forth fourth quarter.
And it was for moments just like these Pinelands acquired star Clapham guard Jeremy Gill in a season where the expectations are title or bust in the Pine.
But the less-celebrated pickup proved the most acclaimed this time around, with Skeete more than showing he still owns big-time skills despite spending last year in Clapham’s third division outfit.
Sonics certainly wished they’d left him there.
With under two minutes remaining and Pinelands trailing 65-64, Skeete put his side ahead for good by catching on the move to hit a huge corner trey over a desperately outstretched Rahiim Gibbons before the buzzer.
And that was just the first of three straight scores from the veteran guard, who answered Akeem Marsh’s game-tying runner with an even more unlikely underhand scoop shot going to his left against the grain.
If that wasn’t good enough, then Skeete truly sealed the deal on the very next possession, making Ramon Simmons pay for an ill-advised step-back jumper by drilling yet another contested triple from deep with the shot clock winding down.
It set off wild scenes of celebrations for the Pine faithful that surely thought they were enduring just another customary late-game meltdown when Sonics took a 54-46 lead into the fourth quarter.
However, Gill and Charles Vanderpool had three baskets in succession between them before Anthony Barrow capped a run of eight unanswered Pinelands points that tied the game with 7:45 to play.
Gibbons seemingly ended the rally with a huge trey just moments later, but Skeete responded with one of his own before Corey McDonald scored on consecutive possessions to put the Pine up 64-61.
That lead was rather short-lived, though, as Marsh split a pair of free throws shortly thereafter right before Gibbons turned a steal into a go-ahead “and-one” bank shot at the two-minute mark.
But Gibbons also got a close-up look at Skeete’s own go-ahead basket that proved the start of one of the greatest individual play-off performances in Pinelands’ history.
It was the fitting end to a contest that wasn’t wanting for memorable moments after Sonics forward Dwayne Kellman threw down a spectacular alley-oop toss from Jeff Trotman in transition.
Rico Thorpe almost one-upped him mere moments later, but just couldn’t complete an “and-one” dunk over Marsh retreating in the open floor. Still, those plays were just the aesthetic highlights of a riveting play-off game that neither side led by more than five for the first 28 minutes.
However, Kellman returned to send home a thunderous left-handed tip slam after Simmons ended a streak of five misses from behind the arc to spark a huge 17-6 Sonics run that appeared to turn the tide in St John’s favour (54-46).
Vanderpool started the fourth quarter with a hook shot, though, and Gill added successive layups before Barrow tied the game some seconds later in the paint.
Gill finished with 13 points and eight assists and Thorpe added ten points for Pinelands, who face Lumber Company Lakers in Game 1 of the finals tonight at the Wildey Gym.
Marsh led Sonics with 18 points and 11 rebounds and Trotman had 12 points while Gibbons scored 11.