Portlaoise Panthers 58 Singleton Supervalu Brunell 50
Hula Hoops U-18 Women‘s National Cup Semi Final
Ciara Byrne, Jasmine Burke and Lisa Blaney were to the fore as Portlaoise Panthers upset hosts Brunell to reach the U-18 Women’s National Cup final this afternoon.
Ciara Byrne top scored with 22 points and ran the show throughout for Jack Dooley’s side.
Jasmine Burke, who like Byrne, had already played in the Senior Women’s semi final win and the U-20 semi final loss, was immense in defence as, after two early fouls, she kept her composure to make a number of crucial interceptions under both baskets at different stages.
While Lisa Blaney’s direct running style was a breath of fresh air as the teenager contributed 13 points as was at her very best in the crucial midpoint of the second quarter where the Panthers turned the screw to their advantage.
Home side Brunell began the game well with Kelly Sexton, Mollie Blunt and Lauren Holman pushing them into an early lead.
Portlaoise were really struggling on their own rebound and it was their star player Ciara Byrne who got them into the game with a couple of free throws.
Lauren Holman and Kelly Sexton pushed Brunell further ahead but as we entered the closing stages of the opening quarter, the Panthers began the exert their game plan.
The excellent Ciara Burke saw her influence grow on proceeding and she scored six points in a row to level the game.
Lauren Holman and Michelle Ugwah regained the lead for Brunnell but two late Gillian Wheeler baskets left us level 14-14 at the end of the quarter.
Just like the first quarter, Brunnell came flying out of the traps in the second as Anna Morrissey and Holman moved them five points ahead.
However, by the midpoint of the quarter, the Cork side’s lead had evaporated and the Panthers found themselves in front for the first time.
Sarah Fleming, Ciara Byrne and Ella Byrne narrowed the gap to one before Fleming gave the Panthers the lead.
Ciara Byrne scored again while Jasmine Burke added a brace after Lisa Blaney converted the first three-pointer of the game to give the Panthers a 31-21 advantage.
Brunell needed to respond or the game could’ve been over by half time and in fairness they did with Lauren Holman, Kelly Sexton and Michelle Ugwah finding the basket.
But Panthers continued scoring too as Ciara Burke, Lisa Blaney and Gillian Whelan grabbed two-pointers to leave them 38-29 ahead at the interval.
And with that lead, Portlaoise Panthers set about extending it in the third quarter – which they did.
Brunell initially started well once again though and narrowed the deficit to just four points in the opening couple of minutes before Portlaoise stepped on the gas again.
With their defence firmly on top, Ciara Byrne, Sarah Fleming and Jasmine Burke all scored to leave them 53-39 ahead as we headed for the final quarter.
With a 14-point lead, Portlaoise Panthers went defensive in the final quarter and slowed the game down when they had possession.
That did invite Brunell on to them and Blunt, Holman and Ciara Finnegan narrowed the deficit to eight with seven minutes to go.
Ciara Byrne replied for the Panthers but Mollie Blunt grabbed the next six points to leave the score at 55-50 with just over two minutes to play.
However, coach Jack Dooley called a time-out and that seemed to refocus the Panthers as they instantly went down the other end where Lisa Blaney grabbed a crucial basket.
The same player would later add a free throw as Panthers emerged eight point winners in the end.
They will now advance to the National Final against Waterford Wildcats in two weeks time.
SCORERS – Portlaoise Panthers: Ciara Byrne 22, Gillian Wheeler 6, Sarah Fleming 8, Ella Byrne 2, Lisa Blaney 13, Jasmine Burke 8
PORTLAOISE PANTHERS: Ciara Byrne, Shauna Dooley, Sarah Fleming, Lisa Blaney, Grainne O’Reilly, Jasmine Burke, Jade Burke, Gillian Wheeler, Sarah Tuohy, Ella Burke, Zara Mulvihill, Faith Umeh, Hannah Collins, Shannon Scully, Emma Fitzpatrick
Management: Jack Dooley, Claire Melia and Peter O’Sullivan