Aaron Calixte took charge in the second half as Tralee Warriors downed Éanna to progress to the Irish men’s Super League title game
The difference between bad offence and great defence is naturally subjective but, if you watch basketball even casually, you quickly learn to spot the difference. The first half of Sunday’s semi-final in a raucous Coláiste Éanna had a little big of bad offence in the first half but a whole lot of tremendous D that enthralled those present.
Aaron Calixte made his presence felt early, making a beautiful baseline jumper from an ugly ass position as Tralee set the ton to build up a 9 point lead early, aided by the deep threat of Darragh O’Hanlon.
In a slugfest, Éanna switched to their meatiest line-up that featured Neil Lynch, Josh Wilson, and Daniel Heaney. The latter bears a striking resemblance to Doug Edert, the breakout star of March Madness with St Peter’s, but even the doppelganger effect couldn’t spark a scoring run for the hosts. This one was going to be all grind.
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Stefan Zecevic made a long two, his specialty in this side despite its throwback nature, to finally bring matters back to within two possessions early in the second quarter but it was a sign the effort to outmuscle Tralee was starting to pay off. Romonn Nelson made it a one-possession game midway through the frame as Éanna looked to finally be getting on top.
The Warriors however found a way to slice through once Éanna opted to rest Wilson for Devin Gilmore. The latter is an extraordinary athlete and baller but his role is so different to Wilson that it forced Éanna to go back to trying to run with Tralee, which just wasn’t where they could match the visitors.
Late in the half, exhaustion was already setting in for both sides. Shots looked tired and the strain of such a high paced half so late in the season, despite only 50 points scored in total between the sides, showed. Tralee led by 6 at the break but it felt wide open.
This was when Calixte, who had been good to very good up to that point when full domination. Back to back scores from the former Oklahoma Sooner, including a three after he missed the and-1 on his previous bucket, settled the visitors. This was followed by a vintage finish by Daniel Jokubaitis, who went looking for contact and then landed a floater on his way down. The Warriors were up by double digits and early in the third it looked like Éanna needed a spark.
There was some light relief as the home fans did the classic woooooah you fat, well you know the rest, as Ronalds Elsknis stepped to the line, The skinniest man on the floor wasn’t deterred and made the bucket. The lead Tralee held felt greater than the number on the scoreboard and this was only compounded by Elsknis nailing a three on the buzzer to end the third.
A three by Nelson briefly got the home crowd going again early in the fourth only for their cheers to turn to groans as Jokubaitis responded immediately with a put-back. The icing was put on this one when Calixte went deep once more, followed immediately by a steal and score from Jokubaitis. With 4.12 left, there were 20 points between the teams and everything else was academic afterwards.
Calixte owned the floor, leading the Warriors to inflict the first home defeat Éanna had suffered all year and the only one that would matter. In a week, they face a familiar foe. Neptune, who Tralee beat in the cup final in January, await. It’s another big trip to Dublin with the biggest prize of all at stake.