Left Bank Kilkenny 73pts
St Mary’s 72pts
Team Left Bank have been competing in the National Basketball League for the past three years, and they made their second National Cup semi-final appearance in Neptune Stadium, Cork on Saturday.
Having beaten Donegal Town and Colaiste Eanna along the way there was huge excitement in the camp when it was revealed that they would play St Mary’s of Castleisland in this massive cup tie.
Over the past couple of seasons little has separated these two teams and the games have provided top class basketball and some nail biting finishes. St Mary’s had qualified for this stage of the competition after taking down Killester, who had put the favourites Swords Thunder out.
Everything was in place for a thrilling encounter and the teams matched expectations, providing a pulsating game that went right down to the last 2.2 seconds.
Team Left Bank warmed up looking very focused and wearing ‘win for Dusan’ tops with respect to their rising 17-year-old star who picked up a nasty injury in a game last weekend which will keep him out of action for the remainder of the season. However, it was St Mary’s who settled the quicker.
Dan Griffin was unstoppable, picking up 13 points in this quarter alone out of his team’s tally of 19. Andrew Fitzgerald and John Galvin had been the two players that had orchestrated St Mary’s win in Kerry over Team Left Bank earlier in the season, and so the defence was focused on keeping those two players quiet from the start.
The Bank had ample opportunity to put points on the ’board but the shots just were not dropping for them. James Butler and Padraig Morrissey combined for 9 points in this quarter, and when Puff Summers was fouled at the half way line on the buzzer he coolly slotted all three free throws to leave the gap at only five points (19-14) in favour of the Kerrymen.
The first couple of minutes of the second quarter followed the same route, but then The Bank began to get a feel for the game and make some shots. The intensity of the defence from The Bank was outstanding and the three key players from St Mary’s, Wall, Galvin and Fitzgerald combined for just four points in the first half as a result.
James Butler, who was extremely accurate throughout, was on target again along with Philip Brennan and Brian Hogan as the team went on a run of 12 unanswered points. Puff Summers finished the quarter in style and the momentum of the game had completely shifted in favour of the team from the South East.
The scoreline was now 37-34 in favour of Team Left Bank as The Cats took a well deserved half time break.
It was only a matter of time before the three big names from St Mary’s got into the game. They did so with a bang in the third quarter, combining for 20 of their team’s 22 points and showing all of the experience and skill that has given them so much success in the past.
Team Left Bank switched between man to man and zone to try to counteract the offence of St Mary’s with relative success, but at this stage it was vital that they put up scores consistently in their own offence and stay in touch.
Puff Summers was unstoppable and picked up some excellent scores while James Butler continued to prove a thorn in the Kerrymen’s sides. Brian Hogan hit a huge three pointer for The Bank and Andy Piper put in a score with a big post move.
The game was now finely poised with Team Left Bank ahead by a small margins, 58-56.
These teams have been in this position before and on all of their previous five meetings in the National League, St Mary’s had come out on top.
The fourth quarter was ever so tight with both defences dominating and scores coming at a premium. Up stepped Puff Summers, who took on the responsibility of keeping the scoreboard ticking over, hitting 13 of his 27 points when the game was on the line.
It was basket for basket and edge of the seat stuff for supporters and neutrals alike. The noise levels had risen significantly between the first and fourth quarters, and fans could cut the tension with a knife.
St Mary’s had edged in front 70-68 when Lukasz Szulc hit a huge baseline shot for The Bank to draw the game. St Mary’s could not convert their next offence as Declan Wall ended up in the advertisement hoardings as The Bank pushed out onto offence 5-4.
However, a untimely turnover gave possession back to St Mary’s, who had Wall unmarked in the other half as he took a chance and failed to get back on defence. An easy layup and the teams were level again.
Summers a star
With just 52 seconds left, Summers had possession of the ball and coming off a big screen pulled up and shot a huge three pointer. The oxygen was sucked out of the stadium and the ball seemed to spend an age in the air. ‘Swish’, nothing but net and Team Left Bank were up by three points.
Andrew Fitzgerald, who was kept quiet for most of the game, then picked up possession and used his strength to manoeuvre in for a big score to leave just a single point between the teams.
Full court pressure followed and St Mary’s frantically chased and fouled to stop the clock. On the thirrd possession and with just 2.2 seconds remaining St Mary’s were in the penalty.
Summers took possession of the ball to be fouled immediately and put on the line for two free throws. The first cruelly rolled around the ring and fell off. No good!
On the second attempt Summers cleverly missed the shot on purpose, making sure to hit the ring thus activating the game clock and leaving St Mary’s with insufficient time to get the ball down the court for another offence.
The scenes of celebration were unbelievable. The Bank were huge underdogs in most peoples eyes to progress to the final.
A fantastic performance and achievement for this team who have undergone a lot of changes over the past couple of years, but who are improving with every game. They really were value for the win and well deserving of their place in the final.
The team spirit and comradary between the players was very evident as they fought for each other every step of the way to create their own little piece of history.
The job is not yet completed, however. Team Left Bank’s opposition in the final is Titans of Galway, who are an excellent team in their own right. They beat UCD Marian with ease in the other semi-final.
This game will be played in the National Basketball Arena in Tallaght in two weeks time. Kilkenny basketball fans have been urged to get the banners ready and support the team as they bid to be the first team from the county to take home the National Shield.
Scorers - Puff Summers (27), James Butler (21), Padraig Morrissey (7), Brian Hogan (7), Philip Brennan (5), Andy Piper (4), Lukasz Szulc (2), Lughaidh O’Neill, Eugene Walsh, Vincentas Slovikas, Sean Kenny, Ciaran Purcell.