It was a duel between Jayla Johnson and Jiselle Thomas that decided the big battle of Brunell and Killester, as the Nellies packed their trunk for a trip to the Irish Cup final
The league leaders showed their steel in front of a hot crowd at Neptune Stadium as a Jayla Johnson scoring show pushed Brunell past Killester and into the Irish Cup final.
Big banging with a big impact
The one woman wrecking crew of Irish basketball in a Killester jersey makes for an interesting sight. In her young career, Melia has enjoyed a few homes and this latest one is all to familiar with going to war against her. Now, in the orange and black against Brunell, she was showing that she’s up for the fight no matter how she suits up.
In the early going she got to work on both ends of the floor. This game started out as one for those who love physical basketball. Alongside Melia, Killester had to more than capable bashers in Ieva Bagdanaviciene and Keowa Walters. In the navy of Brunell, Jayla Johnson and Kyaja Williams showed they were more than happy to bang inside as well.
That willingness to get physical however would come with risks. Melia would pick up her third foul by the middle of the second. Then, after she was inexplicably kept in the game, her fourth came with a minute left to play in the half. With Bagdanaviciene also reaching 4 shortly after the halfway mark, this was the opposite of optimal for Killester.
For all the size on display, it was one of the smallest women on the floor that had the biggest impact early. Jiselle Thomas lacked size but not spirit as her aggressive drives got her to the line repeatedly and she carried the offensive load for Killester in the first quarter, hitting double digits in short order.
This is a happy place for Jiselle Thomas
I have a buddy that went to Eastern Tennessee State University, the same alma mater as Jiselle Thomas of Killester. He is from a basketball family but never took to the game as a player. Thomas? Well she was most certainly in an environment she loved in this one.
Her first quarter dominance continued through the second and it was a quite simple plan. There was nowhere that she didn’t like to attack from. The outside, the inside, right up the gut, Jiselle Thomas was fine so long as it ended with a bucket.
Then came the feed to Leilani Turner, daughter of Old Man Power himself, for a three and Killester were truly in command. It Jayla Johnson’s rally to get things under control for Brunell. She and Kelly Sexton combined to drag this one back into a phone booth contest.
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No Melia, no problem?
At least that was how it looked for Killester early in the third as they raced out of the gates. Edel Thornton however soon gave Brunell control of this one. The Nellies soon had their first lead in a long time as they muscled their way into the meat of the frame.
In truth however this was becoming a shootout between Jiselle Thomas and Jayla Johnson. While the former took a varied approach, the sheer route-one mindset of Johnson was brutally enticing. Every time she barreled into the paint, it took that bit more energy from the Killester D.
Killester opted to gamble early to counter, bringing Claire Melia back on the floor in the middle of the third. The risk was obvious. She could either play her own game and be near certain of her fifth in short order or ease off and create ample space for opponents. The latter turned out to be the case as Brunell began to look in clear control.
A matter of control
Bagdanaviciene picked up her fifth early in the final frame. Walters, whose foul issues started later, would follow at the mid-point of the quarter. The long and bruising frontline of Killester had been neutered and the totality of Brunell’s control was clear. Danielle O’Leary had been stringing this along neatly while happily deferring to her more bruising counterparts when the time called for it.
Jiselle Thomas would finish with an extraordinary final statline, 38 points with 4 boards and 3 assists, but it was for nought.
Doing the double requires more than courage, skill, or even endurance. All of these are needed along with the ability to never, ever, lose your focus. Brunell somehow have that dream very much alive. Edel Thornton’s calm being a key reason for that. A Cork derby in Dublin awaits in a fortnight to decide the first part. Some big trips will decide the second. Destiny however is in the hands of the Nellies.