COLÁISTE Pobail Bheanntraí senior girls’ basketball team is just one win away from realising its hoop dreams after qualifying for an All-Ireland final.
The Bantry team faced a hectic schedule of games lately, hosting the All-Ireland playoffs on January 31st and winning the subsequent All-Ireland semi-final last Friday, defeating FCJ Secondary School, Bunclody in Tallaght.
Following a pulsating play-off decider against St Louis of Dundalk, CP Bheanntraí were very much in control against Bunclody.
Niamh Cotter, Hannah Kelly, Emma Cotter, Michaela Andrews, Megan Endersen and Aoife Cotter produced eye-catching performances as the Bantry school led their opponents at the end of each quarter.
The West Cork side outscored Bunclody by 17 points in the second period alone, led the game by 24 points at the end of the third and secured their passage to the national final with a comprehensive winning score of 45 – 33.
In stark contrast to the relatively sedate semi-final, the hundreds of supporters who crammed into the sports hall at CP Bheanntraí six days earlier witnessed the home team secure victory against St Louis with a finish that would not have been out of place in a Hollywood movie.
In a final quarter where the opposing teams continually traded fouls, scores and the advantage on the scoreboard, Bheanntraí’s Nancy Hegarty stole the limelight.
She scored the winning basket on the buzzer after the Dundalk school had, seconds earlier, missed two free throws that could very easily have decided the game.
There was little indication of the drama that was to come when CP Bheanntraí recorded a measured victory over Tralee’s Gaelcholáiste Chiarraí in the opening game.
The Bantry school was dominant throughout each quarter. Niamh Cotter (19 points), Emma Cotter (14 points) and Aoife Cotter (seven points) made significant contributions to securing the 48 – 31 victory.
St Louis then overcame the Kerry side in the second game, setting up a winner-takes-all decider against CP Bheanntraí in the final game.
The West Cork side trailed 23 – 16 at the break and was in danger of losing touch.
CP Bheanntraí proved their mettle in a third quarter that would prove pivotal. Players like Michaela Andrews and Hannah Kelly were crucial in limiting St Louis to a mere six points.
Megan Endersen brought calm and poise in the transitions from defence to attack while Emma Cotter’s counter-attacking drives through the top of the key combined with Niamh Cotter’s dominance under both boards saw the Bantry school rack up 14 points to head into the final quarter leading 30 – 29.
With both Emma Cotter (14 points) and Aoife Cotter fouled out during the final quarter, talismanic Niamh Cotter redoubled her efforts in the game’s closing minutes and, with 39 seconds left on the clock, brought her personal tally to 16 points to put Coláiste Pobail Bheanntraí two points ahead (43 – 41).
After St Louis levelled through two free throws, they had the chance to hit the front but crucially missed two more frees.
Niamh Cotter claimed the ball and passed to the counter-attacking Nancy Hegarty.
The scoreboard showed one second remaining when the ball left the shooter’s hands and, fittingly, it found its target to send CP Bheanntraí through to the semi-final, which they then won.
The girls are now preparing to return to the National Basketball Arena for a national final game against Dublin’s Muckross Park College that will be played in the last week of February.
CP Bheanntraí senior girls’ basketball team: Michaela Andrews, Lauren Arundel, Aoife Cotter, Niamh Cotter, Emma Cotter, Beth Cronin, Sarah Cronin, Megan Endersen, Maeve Fitzgerald, Nancy Hegarty, Hannah Kelly, Laura McCarthy, Lauren Murray.
Class of 2014/15: Coláiste Pobail Bheanntraí senior girls’ basketball team; back from left, Pat Curran (coach), Niamh Cotter, Lauren Murray, Laura McCarthy, Lauren Arundel, Emma Cotter, Hannah Kelly, Megan Endersen and Frances Lane (team manager); front from left, Maeve Fitzgerald, Aoife Cotter, Beth Cronin, Sarah Cronin, Nancy Hegarty and Michaela Andrews.
(Photo: Colbert O’Sullivan)