Maree produced an encouraging start in their first National League fixture against the 2009 champions Ballon on Saturday, and while Ballon’s greater experience prevailed at the end, this was a game that could have gone either way.
Ten Maree players saw court time in the first half, of whom seven were playing their first National League game. The three veterans, captain Darren Callanan, Sarunas Zuirblinskas, and Linas Mitkus started for Maree, along with u-18 National Cup double winners Liam Conroy and Con Crowley.
Ballon, a team made up of of ex-pats from the basketball power-house of Lithuania, played with pace, poise, and precision from the tip-off, and showed just why they won the 2009 title. Despite seven points from 6’7” Mitkus, and a great inside basket from Zuirblinskas, Maree ended the period 16-23 behind.
A switch to man-to-man defence for the second period paid immediate dividends as Ballon were harried by quick Maree guards Crowley, O’Hagan, Forde, and Rahmani, with excellent help and recover from Callanan. As the visitors to Calasanctius College began to turn the ball over, Maree upped the tempo with good transition offence, led by Callanan. Maree hit 24 points in the quarter, held Ballon to just nine, and went in at the half 40-32 ahead.
The Oranmore-Maree newcomers lost their way a little in the third. Con Crowley was unlucky to pick up his fourth and fifth fouls. And as Ballon’s passing and shooting accuracy improved, Maree found it harder as several attacks ended with rushed shots as the 24-second clock came into play. Ballon hit 20 points and Maree just eight as the visitors went into the last period 52-48 ahead.
However Maree stormed back, and with less than two minutes to go, although Ballon were ahead, Maree’s youngsters had made the big jump to National League pace. The game was still there to be won, but Ballon just took it in the end.
Mitkus hit 18 points, Callanan 13, David Hansberry 2, Conroy 10, Zuirblinskas 7, Ken Hansberry 4, and Crowley 3.
Maree: D Callanan, L Mitkus, D Hansberry, S Zuirblinskas, K Hansberry, C O’Hagan, E Forde, C Harte, C Crowley, A Brennan, C Graham, L Conroy, G Rahmani.