Portlaoise Panthers continued their great run of form with a hard fought victory over Phoenix Rockets on Saturday night.
Portlaoise Panthers 83
Belfast Phoenix Rockets 66
Women's National League Division 1
Rockets came into the game off the back of a derby loss to Ulster Elks but had added 6’4 American centre Rachel Kehoe in time for their trip to Portlaoise. A great start by Portlaoise was slowly reeled in by Rockets but Panthers rallied in the fourth to take a deserved win.
Phoenix Rockets made their first ever visit to St Mary's Hall and were an unknown force for Peter O’Sullivan’s side. The game started slowly as the teams got to grips with the oppositions game plan.
Ciara Wheeler continued her great scoring form with two free throws to get her side off the mark. Rachel Kehoe responded with a turnaround jump shot before Trudy Walker drew contact for an opportunity. Jasmine Burke followed up with her own three point play after drawing a second foul from Kehoe early on.
A sloppy period of play from both sides ended with a lovely worked end line play finished by Ciara Wheeler in the corner. Kayonna Lee kept Rockets ticking over with some strong play under the boards. But a big play down low by Trudy Walker saw Kehoe pick up her third foul and she left the game for a long period.
A great steal by Maeve O’Sullivan gave Portlaoise the opportunity to break and Sarah Fleming danced her way to her first score of the game. She followed this up with a big three pointer in the next offence to give her side an eight point lead at the end of the quarter.
The second quarter started with another fine basket from Sarah Fleming after she rebounded her own shot to finish her lay-up. Hannah Collins had a big influence on the offensive end picking up six points, getting position inside and using her strength to finish at the rim.
Deirdre Tomlinson was rewarded for her hard work heading to the line and hitting one from two. Rebecca Barker added six points of her own for the visitors as she was given too much space in the key. Sinead Smye and Kayonna Lee finished out the quarter in fine form as they combined for their sides last thirteen points of the half, each hitting big threes to close the gap for four points at the buzzer.
While Portlaoise held a four point lead the momentum had changed in Phoenix favour and they continued to eat into the lead with the reintroduction of Kehoe to the game. Lee and Barker also added scores as Rockets took the lead for the first time in the game.
Portlaoise were under pressure and finding it hard to gain a foothold in the quarter. A massive three on the break from Maeve O’Sullivan stemmed the flow of Phoenix scores and settled the home side. Trudy Walker was beginning to dominate the boards both ends, her athleticism helping her to two well taken baskets to keep Portlaoise in the game.
Further scores by Walker, Wheeler and Fleming were cancelled out by free throws from Lee and a Georgie Mc Grath three pointer to leave the teams tied. An excellent three pointer from Sarah Fleming gave Portlaoise the lead late in the quarter and at the death Walker added another two points to give them a five point lead heading into the fourth quarter.
The crowd was now getting behind the Portlaoise team and the girls responded with a flurry of early scores. Panthers were raining threes with Ciara Wheeler starting it off and Maeve O’Sullivan added two of her own. The gap was out to double digits for the first time and Portlaoise were in the groove.
Portlaoise youngsters Ciara Byrne, Jasmine Burke and Sarah Fleming got in on the scoring and the game was over as a contest with a few minutes on the clock. Phoenix had no answer to the late Panthers onslaught and Portlaoise ran out winners on a scoreline of 83-66.
Team: Ciara Wheeler, Ciara Byrne, Maeve O’Sullivan, Deirdre Tomlinson, Jasmine Burke, Hannah Collins, Sarah Fleming, Trudy Walker.