Portlaoise Panthers 74 Liffey Celtics 66
Hula Hoops Under 20 Women
What an achievement for Portlaoise Panthers and this group of players.
This was a nail-biting, exhilarating game of basketball until the final whistle. Neither team left any breathing space until Panthers eventually pulled away with three minutes to go.
Portlaoise superbly pulled the ball into the baseline throughout the game and the cool, calm and collected Claire Melia orchestrated the offence with exceptional skill to help her side earn their place in the final.
Liffey Celtics pulled ahead in the first and second quarters, registering 20-16 at the end of the first and going up by seven midway through the second.
However the Portlaoise U20s never gave up and emerged one point ahead at the end of the half.
Shauna Russell caused havoc with her long shot accuracy, as did Shooting Star Ciara Bracken, but Portlaoise continued to move the ball well across the zone into the third quarter.
The best of Irish talent was certainly on show as the two sides battled in out from there.
Celtics led 45-43 with three minutes to go in the third quarter. Panthers managed to make it 49-49 with 2.17 on the clock as Melia continued to draw frees under the baseline.
It finished with Celtics going three points into the lead at the end of the third but you could just sense that something great was ready to happen for these Portlaoise athletes.
Sarah Fleming got Portlaoise off the mark straight away in the fourth quarter to make it a one point game.
Portlaoise’s offence impressed continually and they managed to restrain the threat of Russell and Masterson for the Kildare side.
Liffey Celtics pushed five points ahead but Panthers could be considered as exceptional under those circumstances. A lovely finish from Jade Burke made it a two point game before Melia tied the game with just over five minutes to go.
Panthers went two ahead before Burke drew the foul and secured two points from the free-throw line to go four ahead.
Celtics brought this back to two before Sarah Fleming and Byrne secured three points a piece to make it 68-60 with little over three minutes to go.
Panthers grasped their cusp on the game with every ounce of energy they had to make it through to the grand finale in Tallaght.
The energy and determination it took to win back the lead so many times most certainly with a squad effort.
Last year’s under 16 Irish squad members like Ciara Byrne, Shauna Dooley and Gillian Wheeler stood up to be counted.
This years Irish under 17 development squad members, Jasmine Burke and Sarah Fleming also added an impressive standard of this team along with Shauna Mulhall and Jade Burke.
They will now face either current Cup holders DCU Mercy or Ulster Elks in the final.
— Portlaoise Panthers (@plaoisepanthers) January 12, 2019
PANEL: Shauna Dooley, Jade Burke, Shauna Mulhall, Ciara Byrne, Amy Byrne, Gillian Wheeler, Jasmine Burke, Hannah Collins, Claire Melia, Lisa Blaney, Caoimhe Foynes, Sarah Fleming