Trinity Meteors secured a place in the Hula Hoop Women’s Division 1 Cup final after an impressive smash-and-grab win – 77-63 – against Ulster University Elks in Cork yesterday.
Trinity spent most of the semi-final chasing the Ulster side but, with a little bit of fortune and a strong finish in the final quarter, they pulled off an unforeseen victory. Although the comeback was a team effort, particular credit must go to Edel Thornton, who was irrepressible in the second half and netted a deserved 26 points.
The division’s two top teams started brightly, with both hungry for a place in the final. Elks, though, eased into the game more quickly, sinking three easy baskets in quick succession. The Ulster side took advantage of Trinity’s exposed defence to earn themselves a six-point lead early on. Kollyns Scarbrough was the main drill in Trinity’s fractured defence, and Ulster’s Lexi Posset sank a wonderful long-range effort from just inside the arc.
Edel Thornton got Trinity’s first points on the scoreboard. The former Quinnipiac University point-guard dispossessed Posset, who fumbled her dribble, before sinking for two. Elks were just as ruthless, however, banking three-pointers left, right and centre in response.
Trinity’s Lauren Grigsby produced the score of the quarter: Thornton flashed a quick one-two with Katie MacDaid to find Grigbsy unattended on the right-hand side of the arc. Grigsby effortlessly pawed it in for three points, leaving the score at 19-13 at the end of the quarter.
Posset opened the scoring in the second quarter with an angled dribble around the arc to slot in for two. The strategy of tipping it in at the hoop would become a friend to the Ulster side, with Erin Maguire and Seana Harley-Moyes also netting scores in a similar fashion.
Trinity were not enjoying much luck at the other end of the court. Missed chances cost them as the Elks raced into a 10-point lead at 27-17.
The final six minutes did see an improvement, as Meteors finally narrowed the deficit. Sarah Kenny emphatically bagged five points in the space of 15 seconds – first by cherry-topping a delightful wriggled run from Thornton, and then by landing an equally impressive three-pointer with a swoosh from out wide – and things began to look brighter.
Although they still trailed at the break, Meteors were helped by a timely three-point finish from Jade Daly on the buzzer, narrowing the gap to 37-33 at half-time.
Two three-pointers from Edel Thornton early in the third quarter tied the match up at 40-40. Meteors went ahead for the first time in the game halfway through the third quarter. Thornton drove into the Elks’ half and flung the ball out to Eimear Mairtin on the left, who darted through the lane and scooped into the net.
Ulster University responded with some big scores, upping the ante after losing their cushioned lead. They knew now that a victory would require some digging. Posset floated another stunning three-pointer. Scarbrough was on hand too, slotting away two sets of free-throws to make it 54-48. For Trinity, Lauren Grigsby knocked over another two in response, leaving just four points between the sides going into the final quarter.
The pendulum initially swung Trinity’s way in the final stages, with MacDaid capitalising on Grigsby’s three-point rebound to get the first score of the final quarter. But Elks responded promptly: scores from Scarbrough, Posset and Aoife Callaghan made it a six-point lead for the Ulster side. It was now or never for Trinity with the clock against them.
Two quick scores from Mairtin and Grigsby gave Meteors hope. Grigsby was awarded two free throws upon scoring – she duly converted, making it a one-point game.
Another two rapid scores soon after from Thornton and MacDaid edged Trinity into the lead, prompting Ulster University coach Pat O’Neill to call a time-out in an attempt to slow down the momentum.
But Trinity continued to dominate after this interlude: a misplaced pass at the endline found the hands of Thornton, and she dodged her way to an opening. Thornton missed the target on her first attempt, but she made no mistake when the ball fell to her on the rebound. It was now 66-61 to the Meteors and, with Thornton leading the charge, things looked ominous for the Elks.
Thornton was springing upon every possible free ball, making daring runs into the arc and forcing the Ulster side into fouls. On one occasion, she knocked over both free throws, adding to Trinity’s scoring spree.
Ulster were crumbling in the final few minutes, unable to keep up with Trinity’s attacking prowess. A slew of chances and free throws from Thornton and Grigsby left the score at 77-63 in Trinity’s favour when the buzzer sounded, confirming their place in the Division 1 final.
The victory for Trinity Meteors did not look one bit likely prior to the final quarter – their attacks seemed static and ponderous, and Ulster looked confident and cohesive. But a masterclass from Thornton, and a relentless final few minutes, meant they ultimately cruised over the line into a final that will pit them against Portlaoise in two weeks time. You wouldn’t bet against them.