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Hibernians, Mellieħa Libertas set final date in Louis Borg Cup

Hibernians player Peter Shoults (left) looks for a way past William Clairbone. Photo: Wally Galea

MELLIEĦA LIBERTAS        171

STARLITES NAXXAR       170

(aggregate score)

GAME ONE

MELLIEĦA LIBERTAS    84

STARLITES NAXXAR      90

(23-25, 13-15, 27-29, 21-21)

The first game was one characterised with various respective runs from both teams giving each side a momentary upper hand only for the opposing side to reply very shortly afterwards.

After three early hoops from Mellieħa, Starlites hit back with a 16-0 run including four long distance hoops, with a respective brace from Matthew Scerri and Jamiah Windom Haynes.

With Malik Colvin Sheldon more active under the Naxxar boards, a Mirko Azzopardi trey and further buckets from Austin Wrighten, Mellieħa replied 13 points on the trot to regain a momentary lead.

But Starlites returned quickly at par with hoops from the Felice Pace brothers followed by a Myles Thomas basket which gave them a 25-23 first-quarter lead.

The second quarter continued on the same track, yet Starlites were back on fire from long range midway in the third quarter with five treys, two from Jacob Bates and Thomas respectively and the other by Alec Felice Pace to suddenly open a double digit lead, 57-45.

Yet again, Mellieħa’s reply was instantaneous – led by Nikola Vasovic’s three pointers and the margin came down to just three points only for it to return to double digits, 77-66, early in the final quarter.

Mellieħa pushed hard to reduce the deficit but could only bring it down to six points as Starlites managed to maintain their tempo.

Mellieħa: A. Wrighten 26, M. Falzon, N. Vasovic 15, I. Bonett 4, C. Briffa, N. Bukva, M. Colvin-Seldon 33, M. Azzopardi 3, CJ Cordina 3, N. Sultana, L. Tanzini.

Starlites: A. Felice Pace 16, I. Azzopardi, A. Azzopardi, I. Felice Pace 6, M. Fabri, L. Riolo, M. Scerri 20, J. Bates 6, L. Farrugia, K. Xuereb 4, J. Haynes 18, M. Thomas 20.

Referees:  B. Vassallo, G. Barbara, N. Azzopardi.

GAME TWO

STARLITES NAXXAR          80

MELLIEĦA LIBERTAS      87

(23-16, 22-29, 10-21, 25-21)

Eight treys in the first 14 minutes of play spearheaded Starlites to a 35-25 lead and the Naxxar side seemed to be moving towards a spot in the final.

Yet Mellieħa, despite being shorn of the services of Vukasin Jandric and Christopher Julian Cordina, showed great character and immediately came back to just a point away with Colvin Sheldon active under the boards.

Although Starlites hit back with a 7-0 run, including a Kurt Xuereb trey, it was Austin Wrighten who led the comeback for Mellieħa as he started netting a series of points to bring the game at par, 45-45, at the interval.

Starlites faltered a bit in their play in the third quarter whilst Mellieħa took the upper hand and a nine-point streak at the end of the same quarter led them to a 66-55 lead with Wrighten continuing towards his game high 35 personal point tally.

The series was however still wide open as Starlites came back strongly to get back on an aggregate lead as hoops from their skipper Alec Felice Pace and Haynes had the score at 73-78.

Here, Mellieħa surprised their opponents with a late 7-0 run which gave them not only an aggregate lead but placed immense pressure on Starlites so late in the game.

But Naxxar were still in it when Thomas nailed a trey. The series came right down to the wire when with Mellieħa leading with one point on aggregate, they committed a turnover handing Starlites the ball with just over five seconds to go.

To the relief of the Mellieħa clan, Starlites’ attempts were off the mark and the northerners made it to the final two-game series to be played on Friday, March 18 and Sunday, March 20.

Starlites: A. Felice Pace 19, I. Azzopardi, A. Azzopardi, I. Felice Pace 5, M. Fabri, L. Riolo, M. Scerri 4, J. Bates 10, L. Farrugia, K. Xuereb 12, J. Haynes 15, M. Thomas 15.

Mellieħa:A. Wrighten 35, M. Falzon, N. Vasovic 6, I. Bonett 5, C. Briffa 1, N. Bukva 4, M. Colvin-Seldon 25, M. Azzopardi 11, N. Sultana, L. Tanzini.

Referees: I. Simic, N. Azzopardi, F. Ciurariu.

HIBERNIANS   171

BUPA LUXOL   160

(aggregate score)

GAME ONE

HIBERNIANS 85

BUPA LUXOL     84

(23-21, 16-15, 25-24, 21-24)

The first game was a tightly-knit affair with neither side able to distance itself with some considerable margin.

Luxol had to do without their shooting guard Canaan Coffey for both ties and thus had one professional import player available, centre William Claiborne, who was consistently a threat to Hibs under the boards, ending with a personal 34-point tally in the first tie.

Hibs lost one of their Americans, Chris Soderholm, late in the first game with a shoulder injury which then also kept him away from the second game 48 hours later.

The Paolites had a positive offensive first game by Mason Vires, netting an impressive 42 points, including five three-balls, in game one.

Soderholm and towering Serb centre Ivan Demcesen, who matched Claiborne in strength when on the court, both had a double-digit personal tally in the first game.

Paul Attard and Jean Paul Schembri were on target from long range early in the game to give Luxol an early lead. But Hibs managed to overturn the score for a 37-28 lead late in the first half only for Luxol to manage to reduce the deficit by halftime after an 8-0 run, with further treys from Attard and Schembri.

A 17-5 early second-half streak, with Claiborne well in evidence, helped Luxol to now surge ahead, 53-47. But Hibs managed to close the third quarter with a 14-5 run with Vires precise in his plays.

There was nothing separating the two sides in the last quarter as they continually replied to each other’s efforts and the final buzzer had Hibs enjoying a marginal one-point lead, 85-84, and all was still to play for in the second game.

Hibs: M. Vires 42, N. Cassar, M. Vucinic, D. Bugeja 5, L. Farrugia 2, K. Dimech 2, A. Axiaq 9, R. Aquilina, M. Attard, C. Soderholm 15, I. Demcesen 10, P. Shoults.

Luxol: J. Cefai 7, M. Sciberras, P. Attard 15, JP Schembri 6, A. Trapani, L. Trapani, S. Opojevlic 5, M. Matijevic 4, S. Cappello 13, W. Claiborne 34.

Referees: I. Simic, I. Ciurariu, F. Ciurariu.

GAME TWO

BUPA LUXOL   76

HIBERNIANS   86

(13-14, 21-21, 19-33, 23-18)

A 19-5 Hibs run right at the start of the second half was the pivotal moment in this second tie as Hibs managed to open a 54-39 lead which Luxol, despite all their efforts, could not neutralise to the full.

It was an entirely open series until the interval with Hibs enjoying a very slender two-point aggregate lead as they closed the first half at 35-34.

Luxol had some momentary marginal leads as Claiborne again led the offensive ploys assisted in this first part by hoops from Slavko Opojevlic and Marko Matijevic whereas Vires notched more than half of the Paolites’ points in the second rubber.

Keith Dimech’s jumpers and David Bugeja’s hoops added with Vires’ plays helped Hibs to move 15 points ahead early in the second half and they then managed to maintain this margin right up to the end of the third quarter.

Luxol pressed hard to recover the lost ground with Schembri netting three triples. But Hibs, despite losing three players on fouls, managed to contain the Violets’ pressure to book another final with Mellieħa Libertas, apart from the KO final set for the end of the March.

Luxol: J. Cefai 1, M. Sciberras, N. Buhagiar, P. Attard 2, JP Schembri 11, A. Trapani, L. Trapani, S. Opojevlic 12, M. Matijevic 5, S. Cappello 2, W. Claiborne 43.

Hibs: M. Vires 28, N. Cassar, M. Vucinic, D. Bugeja 13, L. Farrugia 8, K. Dimech 16, A. Axiaq, R. Aquilina, M. Attard 4, I. Demcesen 13, P. Shoults 4.

Referees: B. Vassallo, Z. Dobrosavljevic, I. Ciurariu.

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