Starlites Naxxar 84
(after overtime; 20-19, 20-23, 22-18, 13-15, 9-18)
The St James Hospital Shield had to be decided after overtime following an intense final between Starlites Naxxar and Hibernians where both finalists practically battled it out in a tit-for-tat manner all throughout most of the game.
The lead alternated continuously with Starlites having, momentarily, a maximum seven point lead early in the second quarter only for Hibs to immediately come back at par.
With the regular time buzzer finding the two sides locked at 75-75, five minutes of overtime were added on the game clock and here Hibs managed to close the game with a final 7-0 run.
Winners of this honour in the initial four editions between 1987 and 1990, under the name of Paola Stars, and then again four years ago, Hibs thus made it six successes in the history of this competition which has so far been played on 31 occasions.
The Paolites set off on a good note going 7-0 ahead after initial hoops from Christian Soderholm only for Jamiah Windom Haynes to reply shortly afterwards at the opposite end. “This was a huge team win. So many guys contributed for us throughout the whole game,” Hibs power forward Soderholm said.
“It is always going to be an intense game when we play Starlites and today was no exception. It feels great to get the first cup win of the season, but now we have our sights set on the next trophies. We will continue to work and grow as a team until then. I would not want to be a part of any other club here in Malta, I am proud to be a part of Hibs.”
A series of free throws helped Starlites to take the lead, albeit a marginal one and the first quarter closed at 20-19 after closing hoops from Myles Thomas and Alec Felice Pace for Naxxar whilst Mason Vires and Ivan Demcesen were on target for Hibs.
The team concept was highlighted by Hibs’ top point-getter Vires in his post-match comments.
“It was a great team win, at the end of the day we came together as a team when it mattered most. We have battled through adversity and had players banged up throughout the season. However, this is a testament to our team chemistry in that when we come together as one, we are able to compete with any team within the league,” Vires said.
Two Thomas treys, out of his tally of six long-distance shots in this final, and free shots from Jacob Bates moved Starlites 28-21 ahead but the lead changed hands four minutes later after three-balls from Soderholm and Keith Dimech.
After the halftime interval, both sides alternated a series of mini-breaks thereby neutralising each other’s attempts to forge ahead.
In the fourth rubber, Hibs twice went four points in the lead, mainly through Soderholm and Demcesen but more treys from Thomas and hoops from Windom Haynes got Starlites back on track.
Seconds from the end of regulation time, Demcesen made it 75-75 and Starlites missed in their last attempt so as to move on to overtime. Calls for a foul on Alec Felice Pace were waived away by officials after what looked like a shove by Hibernians’ Peter Shoults.
The towering seven-foot Serb centre was also very happy after the game.
“It was a very difficult and demanding match and we had to fight hard for a deserved victory,” he said.
“We will celebrate this success but we also have more important matches waiting for us. We are training hard and we are ready for that.”
Vires led Hibs to an early lead, 82-76, but three-balls from Starlites’ skipper Felice Pace made it again an open game 84-86 with just over a minute to play.
Matthew Attard notched an important trey and then Dimech ascertained Hibs’ Shield success as time ran out for Starlites.
MBA president Paul Sultana presented the winning trophy to Hibs’ Anton Axiaq after the match as the Hibs clan celebrated this success.
Starlites: A. Felice Pace 15, I. Azzopardi, A. Azzopardi, I. Felice Pace 6, M. Fabri, L. Riolo, M. Scerri 3, J. Bates 9, L. Farrugia, K. Xuereb 3, J. Haynes 24, M. Thomas 24.
Hibs: M. Vires 26, N. Cassar, L. Farrugia 5, K. Dimech 18, A. Axiaq 1, R. Aquilina, M. Attard 3, C. Soderholm 21, I. Demcesen 17, P. Shoults 2.
Referees: B. Vassallo, G. Barbara, Z. Dobrosavljevic.