BASKETBALL

Panthers hold off WIT Wildcats to stay in hunt for playoff spot

Portlaoise Panthers 63, Maxol WIT Wildcats 58

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Panthers hold off WIT Wildcats to stay in hunt for playoff spot

Panthers claimed a key win over WIT Wildcats.

Following a three week break from games, Portlaoise Panthers travelled to the new WIT Arena to face Waterford Wildcats who were coming off the back of a fantastic victory over the league leaders, Glanmire.

With Maeve O’Sullivan having suffered a season ending injury and Deirdre Tomlinson also struggling with injury, the Panthers had a depleted squad and were truly up against it.

The Panther girls had the better start of the two teams as they dominated every aspect of the court and had Waterford struggling to settle and find their groove. The Panther man-to-man defence was aggressive, particularly their help defence, and they contained the outside penetration threat posed by the Wildcats which had been problematic in the first game between these two sides before Christmas.

Maeve Phelan and Catherine O’Sullivan punished the Wildcat defence from outside the arc in the first quarter, as the constant threat from Sterling and Melia inside forced the defence to sag inside thus creating openings for the guards which they duely converted. Claire Melia was beaten and bruised after the first quarter but had an upper hand over her defender all game and executed well under the basket.

Sterling was as agressive as ever under the boards and secured both offensive and defensive rebounds for her team. Following this dominant spell, Porltaoise emerged from this quarter with a well earned and deserved ten point lead.

Panthers maintained this lead for the first five minutes of the second quarter as they worked through their offenses excellently, swinging the ball from one side of the court to the other and picking out the subsequent holes in the Wildcats defence. Sinead Melia found her range from the outside and Waterford were foreced to come out high on the guards to eliminate the outside threat.

The second half of the quarter saw a revival from the home side as they converted six ananswered points. The Panthers were tiring so Sharon Melia and Sinead Nihill offered their team-mates a much needed reprieve. Much to the Panthers credit, the comeback did not phase them and they remained confident on the defensive end with some excellent blocks from Claire Melia under the boards which frustrated the home side.

Sharon Melia picked up a well taken basket just before the close of the quarter which left her team four points up going into the break.

Sticking with the same five that finished the first half, coach Peter O’Sullivan’s teamtalk focused on the positives and reminded his team that the performance in the third quarter over the past few games has been lacklustre, which if were to happen again would be to the detriment of the game.

Despite the Wildcats picking up the first basket of the second half, the Panthers managed to extend their lead to seven points midway through the quarter through some excellent play from Melia and Sterling inside. Sinead Melia not only ran the break but she also exposed a miss-match on defence as she penetrated off the dribble and found her team-mates through some lovely assists.

The hard work was being done on the defensive end however as the visitors threw their bodies on the line for any 50/50 balls and showed true grit and determination which forced the opposition into making turnovers. The Panthers side maintained the seven point lead for the rest of the quarter and went into the fourth with the narrow lead.

Maeve Phelan had played some excellent personal defense on Brittney Dunbar, the main scoring threat from the Wildcats, throughout the game but the American showed her class in the fourth quarter as she caught fire from the outside. Claire Melia found herself in foul trouble and had to spend the end of the third quarter and the first few minutes of the fourth on the bench.

To her credit, sinead Nihil played some excellent defence inside and pulled down a very important offensive rebound which was converted by Maeve Phelan. Sinead Deegan hit a three pointer which narrowed the lead to three points which was immediately cancelled out by Catherine O’Sullivan who executed excellently from the three point line on the other end of the court. Necole Sterling hit two fine jumpshots from the elbow which kept the scoreboard ticking over but another three from the home side reduced the deficit to three points.

With a minute left on the clock, Portlaoise received a technical foul but Wildcats failed to convert their free throw attempt and some phenomonal defense from Phelan and Sinead Melia saw Wildcats turnover the ball and with some free throws from Claire Melia and Catherine O’Sullivan saw the Panthers hold out as five point winners.

This win keeps the Panther’s playoff hopes alive as they face Meteors in St Mary’s Hall next Saturday evening at 7pm.