Ladies warm up for Cup final with win over Tralee

O’Loughlins Panthers recorded their fifth win from five games in this years National League campaign away to the mighty Tralee Imperials to move them closer to promotion to the top tier in Irish womens basketball.

O’Loughlins Panthers recorded their fifth win from five games in this years National League campaign away to the mighty Tralee Imperials to move them closer to promotion to the top tier in Irish womens basketball.

The win was sweet for all involved as it was the first win for the team in Tralee’s home court after failing three times in the previous two years. Tralee Imperials were O’Loughlins Panthers nearest challengers before the game but now have three losses to their name.

This was a massive win for Portlaoise and although they have only played half their games in the league, they have built up a healthy lead at the top of the table and now have the National Cup final this coming Sunday to look forward to.

Portlaoise made the worst possible start to their home league game going 18-0 down and were adament that this wouldn’t be the case in this return fixture. Loretta Maher got the games first score for Tralee but Portlaoise quickly replied through a jump shot from Kelsey Wolfe.

Both teams traded baskets throughout the quarter with Maeve O’Sullivan and Wolfe doing the damage for the visitors scoring their sides quarter total between them. Both hit massive three pointers while also taking the ball at the defense inside the key. In reply Loretta Maher was showing her ability with eight points of her own, all coming from inside the paint.

Maher has been key to Tralee so far this year following her drop from Superleague. Portlaoise took a valuable three point lead after the first quarter on a scoreline of 15-12.

Tralee continued to pile on the pressure at the start of the second quarter with Maher and Emma Sherwood getting out on the break ahead of the Panthers ladies.

This forced O’Loughlins Panthers to change up on defense to zone to tighten up both the break and inside threat and forcing Tralee to try from distance. Portlaoise continued to add to their tally in offense through some fine baskets from Catherine O’Sullivan from the elbow position and Kelsey Wolfe from top of the key.

But the stand out player of the quarter was Maeve O’Sullivan who popped up on four occasions to drain the three pointer from well outside the lines. These were massive scores and pretty demoralising on Tralee as most shots came on the 24 second buzzer.

Portlaoise in the past have found it extremely hard to score against Tralee and also hard to stop the home side from scoring but the team were working extremely hard for each other both ends of the floor. By half time O’Loughlins Panthers had extended the lead out to a deserved seven point lead knowing that an even bigger effort was needed in the second half to secure the win for the first time in the Mounthawk gym.

The third quarter was another highly entertaining ten minutes with Tralee playing Portlaoise at their own high intensity, fast breaking game with Sherwood picking up six points on the break. Again the experienced Loretta Maher continued to add to her tally from inside the paint closing the gap early in the quarter. Portlaoise coaching staff kept their team in the zone trusting that the players could contain the opposition.

With Tralee also beginning to get on top in defense, O’Loughlins put the ball in Kelsey Wolfe’s hands and she began to control the game from the point. Wolfe assisted in the first two Portlaoise scores finding Deirdre Tomlinson and Catherine O’Sullivan free inside the key and they finished their opportunities well. She scored her sides next five points while Sinead Melia got into her stride on the break as she finished with her usual calm lay-up.

Wolfe wowed the crowd in attendance at the end of the quarter with a move of brilliance as she took her player on with a step-back jump shot from outside the three point line to give Panthers their biggest lead of the night heading into the final quarter with an eleven point cushion.

The Portlaoise camp knew all too well from past experience that Tralee are capable of turning over any deficit so a big quarter was needed to make sure of taking the points. Lynn Jones continued to show her ability from distance as she quickly closed the gap to eight with a lovely three pointer from the top of the key. Portlaoise quickly responded through Wolfe who again took on the opposition hitting a jumper from mid-range.

With all attention on Wolfe, Sinead Melia stepped up to hit some crucial shots to get her team over the line. Melia hit two excellent three pointers at two crucial occasions late in her sides offense which all but closed out the game. Cassandra Buckley and Sherwood continued to hit back at Portlaoise but the damage was done by Melias shooting as the game finished out on the free throw line as Tralee looked to stop the clock.

Tracey Fallon, Wolfe and Maeve O’Sullivan added baskets from the line to give the visitors their first win in Tralee, keeping their momentum going ahead of some major games in the next few weeks. While not getting their names on the score sheet Nicola Farrell and Sinead Nihill did a tremendous job under the boards both ends of the floor.

The girls now turn their attention to the National Cup final the coming Sunday in the National Basketball Arena as they take on Oblate Dynamos at 4.30pm. They will go into the game unbeaten in all competitions as they look to complete back to back Final wins. All support is appreciated for these record breaking Panthers ladies.

O’Loughlins Panthers Team: Sarah Phelan, Roisin O’Connell, Maeve O’Sullivan, Mary Callanan, Deirdre Tomlinson, Tracey Fallon, Sinead Melia, Sinead Nihill, Catherine O’Sullivan, Kelsey Wolfe, Nicola Farrell.