GIRLS U-18 NATIONAL CUP QUALIFYING TOURNAMENT
Fr Matthews 31
Liffey Celtics played host to the U-18 National Cup Qualifiers last weekend which presented the Panthers side, last years beaten semi finalists, with the opportunity to begin another successful Cup run.
With a Cup quarter finals place up for grabs, it was essential that the girls made it to the final stages of this tournament with both finalists qualifying.
Portlaoise were up against some tough opposition in the group stages of the tournament on Saturday as they faced UL and a dangerous Fr Mathews side. The Panthers made an ideal start to the weekend with a forty point victory over an inexperienced UL team with Maeve Phelan assisting her team in the victory, netting 33 points of their tally.
Fr Mathews proved to be a more complex challenge for the Panthers side as they opened the game with some excellent outside shooting which exposed some lax defence. Panthers slowly tightened their control over the game by working the ball on offence and taking advantage of the open spaces on the floor. Ailbhe Griffin and Erone Fitzpatrick ran the floor with pace and finished some well executed fast breaks assisted by some excellent rebounding and outlet passes from Claire Melia.
At the end of the third quarter, Portlaoise seemed to be cruising into the semi-finals after establishing a healthy ten point lead. However, as with any Cork team, Fr Mathews threw all but the kitchen sink at the Panthers team and their never-say-die attitude almost paid off as they closed the gap to three points in the final quarter.
With this being the first real test for the girls in green all season, maintaining their composure was a must. As a result of some excellent defensive skills, Fr Mathews were forced to foul in order to stop the clock. Maeve Phelan proved unflappable as she went six-for-six from the free throw line to secure a five point victory as the Panthers side marched into the semi-finals.
The semi-final opponents were the girls’ Dublin League rivals Tolka Rovers. After having already secured a comprehensive victory over Tolka in the league this season Portlaoise were full of confidence going into the game but in the Cup, anything is possible! Ailbhe Griffin started excellently for the Panthers, executing some well taken lay-ups and jump shots from outside the key.
With Claire Melia taking up so much attention from the Tolka defence, this allowed for our guards to expose the available space at the back of the zone and Melia picked them out excellently with Sophie Delahunt, Emer Healy and Alice Dunne adding to their teams tally.
Tolka had no response to the Portlaoise man to man pressure and struggled offensively right from the off, only managing eight points in the first half and Portlaoise ran out overall winners on a scoreline of 58-31.
QUALIFYING TOURNAMENT FINAL
Liffey Celtics 48
Portlaoise Panthers 54
With tired and aching bodies the girls faced their toughest opposition of the weekend in the final against hosts Liffey Celtics. The girls emerged with such intensity as though it were their first game of the weekend and led straight from the off.
With the intimidating home crowd roaring on their team, Portlaoise held their composure on offence and exposed the weakness inside as Claire Melia dominated under the boards with some finely executed hook shots.
They say defence wins games and this was definitely the case here as Erone Fitzpatrick came out on top in her head-to-head battle with Super League star Soracha Tiernan, keeping her the 11 points in the game. Similarly, Maeve Phelan bodied up on Irish International Niamh Masterson and held her to 11 points also.
Liffey Celtics, although struggling with their set offence, capitalised on their speed and pace running the floor and finishing in stlye off the fast break; something the Panthers would have to quash in order to win the game. Despite this and with an excellent three-pointer on the buzzer by Fitzpatrick, the Portlaoise side led by ten at the break and Liffeys were left considering a change of tactics at half time.
Liffeys came out with enthusiasm after the break and ran the ball from end to end off turnovers, missed opportunities and made shots. Caught on the hop on numerous occasions, the gap was closed and Panthers were forced into an early time-out to stall the momentum shift.
With the home crowd growing into the game, the Portlaoise side needed to regain composure immediately. Aisling Mc Auley and Sekinat Shabawale stepped up on defence, ensuring the help was there to put an end to the Celtics’ fast breaks and Portlaoise returned to their reliable offence of getting the ball inside to Claire Melia and the guards feeding off her. They went in at the break of the quarter with a seven point lead.
The fourth and final quarter started much the same as the previous one with Celtics attacking off the break through Soracha Tiernan. As a result, another time-out was required to relax the Portlaoise side.
The remaining minutes were full of end to end basketball as Celtics pressed the Portlaoise side after each score trying to force them into quick mistakes and capitalising on mistakes and Portlaoise trying to show patience using and running down the clock. With a massive 25 points from Claire Melia, her last drawn foul was on key Celtics player Niamh Masterson and she had to take a seat on the bench with five personal fouls with one minute left on the clock.
The Panthers defence again held firm in the dying minutes of the game and they ran out overall winners by six points. It was a huge win for this Panthers side who have proved that they can compete with some of the best teams in the country.
Bagging that win has guaranteed a home quarter final and there is no doubt that St Mary’s Hall will be packed to the rafters in support of these young superstars!
Team: Claire Melia, Erone Fitzpatrick, Maeve Phelan, Ailbhe Griffin, Alice Dunne, Sekinat Shabawale, Aisling Mc Auley, Sophie Delahunt, Jennifer O’Neill, Emer Healy, Amy Byrne.
BOYS U-13 MIDLANDS LEAGUE
The Portlaoise boys U-12 basketball team played host to Ballyroan in the Midland Area League.
The Portlaoise lads hit the ground running with baskets from John Hruscovschi and Darragh Mulhall. The home team continued to keep the score board ticking over with good shooting from Patrick O'Callaghan and Brochan O'Reilly.
As the quarter came to a close Portlaoise opened up a 10 point lead thanks to good work from their ball handler Cillian O'Connell that saw his team mates Brochan O'Reilly and Darragh Mulhall finish with baskets. The second quarter saw a new five players from each Club but the Portlaoise lads continued to dominate with baskets from Jack Byrne and their captain Cathal McEvoy.
As the game went on this young Ballyroan team to their credit never gave up battling for every ball but it was the bigger and stronger home team that continued to put points on the score board with good work from Odhran Phelan and Oisin Crossan.
As the half-time whistle approached Portlaoise were in full control with Eoin Murphy who was in his first game of the season after coming back from injury put in some excellent work to help his team to a comfortable lead at the break.
The second half saw Portlaoise up the tempo on the defensive end and go on to get a number of turnovers resulting in baskets from Brochan O'Reilly and Adam Glynn. Portlaoise were now in full control with good performances from Paul Mulhall and Tony Walsh.
As the quarter went on the home team kept working hard through Paul Mulhall and their ball handler Patrick Fitzpatrick to maintain their lead. The last quarter saw both teams relax with the final outcome in little doubt, Portlaoise went on to extend their lead thanks to fine shooting from Cillian O'Connell and Cathal McEvoy who was top scorer of the game with an excellent 11 points.
As the game came to a close Portlaoise finished the stronger with their two base players Jack Byrne and John Hruscovschi dominating to help their team to a well-deserved win.
Portlaoise Team: Cathal McEvoy (Capt), Jack Byrne (VCapt), John Hrulsovki, Oisin Crossan, Eoin Murphy, Cillian O'Connell, Brochan O'Reilly, Patrick O'Callaghan, Odhran Phelan, Patrick Fitzpatrick, Tony Walsh, Paul Mulhall, Darragh Mulhall, Rory Tully, Sean Dempsey, Adam Glynn.
BOYS U-14 MIDLANDS LEAGUE
Portlaoise Panthers faced a strong Ballyroan side in their next Midland League game of the season last weekend.
Panthers started the game very well on offense, moving the ball around, finding the open players and taking good shots, but unfortunately they were falling just short of the target.
Ballyroan were active on defence showing great patience and movement but Portlaoise played great defence stopping them from going further in front. Both teams were displaying excellent defence but it was Ballyroan who took their opportunities as a fine basket form Ballyroan's Mikey O'Connor enabled them to end the quarter with a three point lead.
Portlaoise were a rejuvenated team at the start of the second quarter on top with good movement on and off the ball. However, it did not take long for Ballyroan to adjust and turn momentum by scoring three baskets in a row catching Portlaoise off guard. Despite their greatest of efforts, Ballyroan were leading Portlaoise by ten points at half time.
Following a good team talk at half time, Portlaoise came out all guns blazing with great scores from the big man Sean Gilbather scoring two well worked baskets. Ballyroan were forced into calling a timeout to try to adapt and reclaim the foot hold Portlaoise had established on the game. Ballyroan came back out and added two quick lay-up from Davin McEvoy to extend their lead back to ten points at the end of the quarter.
The fourth quarter saw both teams playing end to end basketball and we were gearing up for an exciting finish. Portlaoise were getting great options inside but were struggling to finish. Ballyroan pushed the ball and got easy two baskets from the hot hand of Davin McEvoy.
Portlaoise continued to battle to the end with great offensive scores from Matthew Delaney scoring three layups in a row to see the game to the end. Both teams played great basketball and it will be a tough battle when these two teams go head to head again.
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