THE CROWDS were on their feet at the National Basketball Arena in Tallaght yesterday evening as a capacity crowd was on hand to witness history being made in Irish underage basketball.
Two Kildare women were on the side as they edged to a five-point win to set up a semi-final clash later this evening, with Monasterevin's Claire Melia and Leixlip's Sorcha Tiernan starring for the Irish. It was Melia who played a captain's role and was the undoubted star of the show, top-scoring with 15 points and claiming 16 rebounds- seven more than any other player on the court.
The Ireland Under 18 women’s team are the first underage Irish basketball team in history to reach the semi-finals of a FIBA European Championships and did so in thrilling fashion with a 60-55 win over Israel. Next up for Tommy O’Mahony's charges is an equally challenging semi-final against Poland on Saturday evening at 6.15pm – which leaves no time to reflect on taking Irish basketball to new heights.
“We would have come into this tournament with aspirations of making the semis,” said the delighted Head Coach. “These girls have high expectations for themselves. It would be nice to celebrate a little but the fact is, we are straight into preparing for the next game. That’s the challenge and we are up for it.”
Both sides looked under pressure in the opening exchanges – Ireland from expectation and Israel from the hosts’ sheer intensity. Rachel Huijsdens broke the deadlock and Dayna Finn drained a three-pointer for Ireland to take the initiative in the second minute. There was both craft and graft in Ireland’s first quarter, with Claire Melia’s ability to improvise in distribution giving her side an edge to lead at the buzzer, 18-16.
It was clear that Israel were at another level to Ireland’s previous opposition. Four of their starters were up against Russian, Italian and Turkish opposition in last year’s Division A Championships and on a mission to regain promotion at the first time of asking. Israel’s penetration was starting to wear down the Irish rear guard and shooting opportunities started to open up with Nikol Mihailetz picking off six points and Hadar Hadad driving full court to put Ireland behind for the first time in the tournament. Israel held on to lead 33-31 at the turnaround.
Ireland found another gear in the third quarter. Rachel Huijsden’s reintroduction helped to make the ball stick on offence and Ireland exposed a weakness in the low post. Bronagh Cassidy’s 12-footer gave Ireland the lead 2 minutes in and Sorcha Tiernan capped a 12-0 run to put eight points between the sides. Israel’s shooting prowess kept them in touch and a pair of three-pointers left it 49-46 heading for the final quarter.
The fourth quarter began and Israel missed nine consecutive attempts before Shirelle Berman left it at 54-50 with 3:28 remaining. A massive three-pointer from Maeve Phelan had the crowd chanting Olé Olé Olé and they held on to win 60-55. While this side certainly aren’t finished yet, their place in history is assured.
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