Ireland 65-61 Estonia
Ireland senior women battled back from a third quarter deficit to record a second win in two days over Estonia in the Gotham Drywall Series at Oblate Hall in Inchicore on Sunday afternoon.
Ireland had to recover from sluggish starts to both halves, but were composed when it counted in the latter stages of both to pick up the win against a very combative and higher ranked Estonian team.
If Ireland started yesterday's game like a freight train, that train was stuck in the station this afternoon.
Estonia to their credit matched up much better with Ireland in the first quarter, restricting the hosts to just one made shot from play, an Enya Maguire three-pointer midway through the period.
Edel Thornton and Bridget Herlihy kept the scoreboard ticking for the Irish at the free-throw line, but their performance lacked the vigour of 24 hours earlier.
By contrast, Estonia found scoring much easier to come by. Their captain Mallis Polk picked up where she left off, getting her team on the board with a nice drive and layup early in the piece.
In all, four of the Estonian team got their names on the scoreboard, with two daggers from range by Maarja Grunmann and Janne Pulk extending their lead to 12-7 as the buzzer sounded.
With the words of head coach James Weldon no doubt ringing in their ears, Ireland found their range early in the second quarter and put on a clinic of scoring thereafter.
Bridget Herlihy was a powerhouse on debut and Ireland once again tried to establish the Malmo Basket player inside the paint. Held to two points in the first, she would go for eight points in the second.
Ireland continued to have problems stopping Estonia from developing extended scoring runs but crucially they now were recording back-to-back baskets of their own with increasing frequency.
Dayna Finn and Edel Thornton began to dictate the tempo in a sweltering Oblate Hall, setting up excellent three-point shots for a clinical Michelle Clarke.
Rachel Huijsdens was on the periphery of the game in the first but got to the line twice in the second ten-minutes, draining all five efforts.
As time ticked away in the half, both teams exchanged leads three times as the game went end to end once more.
It was the home side who would get the all important final score and Ireland went in at the break with a slim advantage, 35-33.
Incredibly Ireland held the lead for just 84-seconds of the first half compared to almost 16 and a half minutes for Estonia.
The break arguably didn’t come at a good time for Ireland, who had all the momentum and their sluggish opening to the game was replicated at the start of the third quarter.
Ireland didn’t register their first basket for almost eight minutes, an Enya Maguire corner three-point shot broke the duck, before another moments later in the same position by Bronagh Power-Cassidy reduced the deficit further.
Estonia were playing with a lot more discipline defensively. Their coach, visibly a frustrated figure at the National Basketball Arena, clapped and encouraged every shot of his team in the third.
As the clock wound down though there was a sense among the packed Irish supporters that momentum was shifting once more. Michelle Clarke popped up with another timely shot from three in the closing 60 seconds and from a difficult looking position, Ireland trailed by just two entering the final quarter.
Playing with a lead is something many of this Ireland team need to learn to do, according to their captain Edel Thornton.
Closing out games is the hallmark of great teams and this Irish team showed despite the inexperience in their ranks, they have the nous and skill to do so.
They wrestled the lead back with an early spurt of scoring from the excellent Herlihy, who recorded a second double-double in as many days, finishing with 23 points and 15-rebounds.
James Weldon looked to his senior players at crucial moments. Thornton, Finn, Huijsdens, Clarke and Herlihy soaked up most of the minutes in the fourth.
Aine O’Connor entered from the bench to make a crucial free-throw in the final three minutes but as much as Estonia tried, they couldn’t break strong Irish resilience in the final moments.
Ireland played smart and hit the boards hard when they needed to to secure a 2-0 series win over their 40th ranked opponents and move onto another friendly with Portugal next week in high spirits.
Ireland: Michelle Clarke (10), Dayna Finn, Rachel Huijsdens (11), Edel Thornton (9), Sarah Kenny, Mia Furlong, Aine O’Connor (1), Maeve Phelan, Ella O’Donnell, Bronagh Power-Cassidy (3), Enya Maguire (8), Bridget Herlihy (23).
Estonia: Maarja Grunmann (9), Victoria Ida Vahi, Sofia Kosareva (13), Anastasia Ptitsona, Helena Svilberg (4), Mailis Pokk (6), Maaja Bratka (9), Martha Liisa Oinits, Greeta Uprus (9), Anette Elisabeth Adler (2), Janne Pulk (8), Ellen Anett Poldmaa (1).