Kestrels rescued victory from the jaws of defeat for the second week running away to Mullingar on Sunday.
Down in the mud for the entirety of the second half and struggling to score against a dogged Mullingar outfit, Liam Guinan showed his class to hit a massive three pointer under pressure and followed it with a lay up to put the Portarlington lads four points clear with seconds on the clock. Mullingar did manage to squeeze another three pointer in at the buzzer to reduce the deficit, but the game was over.
The win maintains Kestrels 100% winning start to the season but that will be severely tested next weekend with an away game against Club 23 Portlaoise.
Kestrels started the game well opening up a 7-2 gap with scores from Sean Smith and Anthony Dunne as well as a three pointer from Niko Dudko. Mullingar responded well to stay in touch and it took another three pointer from Dudko plus a score from the returning Greg Dunne to lead at the end of the first quarter by 14-12.
Mullingar stepped up a gear in the second quarter and aided by some sloppy passing and poor defending from Kestrels they began to pull away. Kestrels only managed 7 points in the entire quarter. Scores came from the excellent Sean Smith, Dan Debosz and Greg Dunne. After a narrow defeat the previous weekend to the same opponents Mullingar were determined not to let the same thing happen this time around. A low scoring first half ended 27-21 in favour of the home team. Kestrels looked in trouble at this point as they were really struggling to score on offence as well as giving up some easy baskets at the other end.
Anthony Dunne opened his second half account with a strong finish from a great rebound to set the tone for the second half. If Kestrels were to go down it was not going to be without a fight. Dudko added another three pointer to pull within 1. But this is a dogged Mullingar team and in this cramped gym in Rochfortbridge, they know how to suffocate even the best opponents. They force teams to take low percentage shots and then hit them quickly on the next offence. Richard Vilkas hit a long range three to edge Mullingar ahead again. Dudko replied. Like two pugilists of old both teams took hits on the chin and then replied with a hammer blow of their own. Dan Debosz got two great scores to just about stay within reach when Mullingar nailed another long range effort to leave 6 between the teams. Dudko responded again just before the buzzer. Mullingar led 38-34 heading into the last quarter.
Vilkas hit another three pointer to stretch the lead again and considering how hard it was to score for Kestrels, another score from the home team and the game might have been out of reach. But Kestrels finally began to hit their stride in the fourth.
Sixteen year old Irish International Sean Smith decided he was going to make Mullingar earn their victory and pulled Kestrels within five with a strong finish. Greg Dunne added another before another three pointer from Mullingar. Then Liam Guinan stepped up to hit a massive triple under pressure. Juan Marchal added another three for Kestrels before Martas Kranaiuskas hit a lay-up and two free throws to put Kestrels up for the first time since the end of the first quarter.
More good pressure from the Kestrels defence forced a Mullingar turnover. Kestrels dumped the ball in Debosz down low forcing a double team. Liam Guinan showed the coolest head in the gym to slip his defender and convert the bounce pass from Debosz to put Kestrels four point ahead with seconds on the clock. Escape completed.
Kestrels have now won their opening three leagues and are in the semi-finals of the Midlands Cup competition in their début season in this competition.
Team: C Foster, C Guinan, L Guinan (5), N Dudko (13), C Corcoran, J Marchal (3), S Smith (7), G Dunne (6), D Debosz (8), M Kranaiuskas (4), A Dunne (4)