St Mary’s Hall played host to the second Super League home game of the season on Saturday night as the Panthers faced and in form Waterford Wildcats who were coming off the back of two consecutive victories.
The supporters were treated to an epic spectacle which went into overtime on separate the two teams. Eager not to find themselves behind early in the first quarter, as has happened in their previous games, Panthers attacked with tenacity and enthusiasm from the off taking the game to the Wildcats.
Necole Sterling proved unstoppable on offense has she hit the first six points for her team and managed to pick Claire Melia out inside notching up some phenomenal assists. The Panthers intense man to man defense put the visitors under severe pressure and should have been rewarded with a three point lead going into the second quarter were it not for a three pointer from Melissa Stone before the buzzer.
The next ten minutes was an exhibition of exactly what this Panthers team is capable of as they dominated on defence, forcing the Wildcats into a series of errors which were capitalised on the break by Aisling Haden, who made a huge impact off the bench, and Maeve O’Sullivan.
The home team were in control on offense too as they worked the ball well inside and out, with Claire Melia creating all kinds of trouble under the boards for the Wildcats post players accounting for the last six points of the half. Portlaoise went in a well-deserved six points up at the break.
The second half started as the first had finished with the dominance continuing under the boards for the Panthers with Melia and Sterling causing an increasing amount of pressure inside. The guards benefited from the extra defensive pressure inside as Catherine O’Sullivan capitalised outside the arc with a well-executed three pointer.
Having increased their lead to 13 points, Wildcats were forced into a time out which saw them re-enter the game in a two-three zone defence which was the turning point of the game. The home side struggled to break down the zone defence and the Wildcats capitalised on their turnovers, narrowing the gap to three points at the break of the quarter.
The fourth quarter was played at a hectic pace as Wildcats were relentless in both attack and defence. Shutting down inside options on offense, the Panthers girls struggled to expose any openings in the Wildcats zone defence while the Cats chipped away on the scoreboard.
They took the lead with two minutes left in the game for the first time since the first quarter and the Panthers looked to be heading for their third consecutive defeat but with 11 seconds on the clock, they were presented with a final effort to draw the game and force overtime. Following a timeout, Panthers excellently executed an inbound play which saw Hayden finish under the basket and the crowd were on their feet, ready for another five minutes.
Wildcats turned to their experienced American in overtime as she took the ball to the board off screens. She bagged herself an excellent three point play at the start of overtime as Panthers faced an uphill battle from the off. The O’Sullivan sisters kept the Panthers in touch on the scoreboard with five points between them but another three point play from Britney Dunbar was a bridge too far for the Panthers as they lost out by four points.
This was a gut wrenching loss for the Portlaoise girls but one that should instil some great confidence in them going forward knowing that they can truly compete with the top teams in the Super League.