Portlaoise Panthers 72 Ballon Rock 75
Basketball – Midlands League Mens Division 1
Portlaoise Panthers men’s team played host to Ballon Rock on Sunday night with both teams in the hunt for top of the table honours.
Ballon Rock took victory in Old Leighlin before Christmas in a tight contest so Sunday night’s game was always going to be another close encounter.
Portlaoise were short of numbers for the game and this was evident during the game as Ballon Rock used their bench throughout to keep things fresh and saw out the win by just three points.
Portlaoise got the perfect start racing into a six point lead courtesy of fine scores from Jack Dooley, Kyle Burke and Benny Carroll. Ballon Rock were patient and eventually got the ball rolling with a score under the basket.
The visitors were fired up for the game and were using their physical presence inside to great effect. Portlaoise were coming under serious pressure down low and while playing some help defence were forced into giving up some outside shots which Ballon nailed time and again.
Benny Carroll kept Portlaoise in the game with and three point play with Kyle Burke also adding a basket after getting the better of his marker inside. A run of scores from Ballon gave them a two point lead after the first quarter.
The Panthers men settled themselves again early in the second quarter and found their rhythm after some patient build up play. Kyle Burke was a constant threat inside the key for the home side while his post partner Jack Scully got in on the action both on the break and down low.
Ballon Rock responded from the three point line with Linas Jusaitis and Audrius Paulenkenas both hitting the mark from a long way out.
A three pointer from Jack Dooley and another converted three point play from Benny Carroll gave Portlaoise the lead late in the quarter. Both sides continued to trade scores and Portlaoise held the lead by the slenderest of margins on a scoreline of 34-33.
The third quarter is always seen as the important quarter to make a move and take the momentum forward.
Unfortunately for Portlaoise it was their worst quarter of the game as Ballon punished them from deep hitting three three pointers while struggling to open up the visitors defence at the other end. Benny Carroll continued to keep Portlaoise within reach with some fine moves to the board.
Armands Vikuls got himself right into the game late in the quarter and got to the rim all too easily to extend the lead out to six points, the largest lead the visitors had all game. Portlaoise needed to regroup at the end of the third as they trailed on a scoreline of 53–48.
The final quarter was a thrilling affair with Ballon coming out strong early on and extending their lead out to ten points.
One would think that the game was up for the home side but they dug deep with under five minutes remaining hitting two big three pointers through Peter O’Sullivan to close the gap to four points.
Late in the game Portlaoise relied on the free throw line as Ballon’s indiscipline gave Portlaoise the opportunity to keep the scoreboard ticking over while stopping the clock in the process. Portlaoise got to within two points with thirty seconds left and nearly drew level off an inbound but the finish wasn’t there.
They again pressed up and sent Ballon to the line where they converted one from two giving Portlaoise another opportunity to send the game to overtime but unfortunately the shot was just off target giving Ballon Rock a three point win.
This leaves Portlaoise in third place in the league standings and more than likely will see both sides renew their rivalry in a Top 4 semi-final over the May bank holiday weekend in what is sure to be another brilliant game.
PORTLAOISE PANTHERS: Jack Scully, Kyle Burke, Peter Duignan, Peter O’Sullivan, Jack Dooley, Jamie Dooley, Benny Carroll.