Gameday 14 of the BOV Men’s League resulted in a definite outcome as regards the playoff berths after Mellieħa Libertas’ win over Depiro ascertained the northerners’ place amongst the top four teams progressing to the post-season stage.
Here, one of the league semifinal series matches the regular league leaders against the fourth-placed team whilst the second and third-placed teams will be facing each other in the other series.
As things stand, with one game day to go, Starlites Naxxar and Hibs are certain of their respective top two positions.
Mellieħa Libertas leapfrogged to a third place in the standings, one game above Depiro but nothing is yet certain here.
Starlites play Mellieħa in the first game in the last game day in two weeks’ time, when three back-to-back games will be played on the local election day, Saturday, March 26.
A win for Mellieħa over Naxxar would not only be their second league win over three rounds, apart from ousting them in the Louis Borg Cup semi-finals but would also place them firmly in the third spot in the standings and will face Hibs in the semi-final series.
Were Starlites to lose against Mellieħa Libertas, would have to suit up against Depiro in the playoffs. On the other hand, a Starlites win would leave uncertain the fourth-placed spot, incidentally, the team who the same Starlites would be facing them in the semi-final series.
This is because Depiro, who presently are placed fourth, would be facing Hibs in the last game of the regular season.
Should Starlites beat Mellieħa earlier in the day, a Depiro win would then land the third spot in the standings to the Mtarfa side as they would join Mellieħa in the final standings but have a 2-1 advantage in the direct encounters. In this scenario, the play-off ties would then be Starlites vs Mellieha and Hibernians vs Depiro.
Mellieħa Libertas 85
(17-15, 27-23, 16-19, 25-15)
Mellieħa’s win, which ascertained their play-off spot, resulted mainly from a strong start in the final quarter with seven straight points which moved to a double-digit 67-57 lead with Depiro not able to claw back into the game in the last stages of the encounter.
Shorn of the injured import player Avery Sullivan but having the debut of Quinton Campbell, Depiro had a bubbly start in the game with Campbell landing a trey and his compatriot TJ Atwood adding a hoop.
Mellieħa opened their account mainly through Malik Seldon at this stage, but Depiro managed to keep ahead.
In-form Austin Wrighten started pounding more shots in the second quarter and helped the victors to forge 37-26 ahead. But Depiro, who also had spurts in the game with one import player on the court, managed to reduce the margin with Miguel Brincat hitting three of his six three-balls in the game, late in the first half.
It was an open game late in the third quarter but Mellieħa’s start in the next rubber gave them a comfortable buffer which they then managed till the final buzzer with Depiro still also shooting below par in their normal field goal range against the zone defence they faced for most of the game.
The Louis Borg Cup final series, to be played on two games on Friday and Sunday respectively, will now be on Mellieħa’s minds as they prepare to face Hibs over 80 minutes of play.
Mellieħa: A. Wrighten 33, M. Falzon 1, N. Vasovic 9, I. Bonett 7, C. Briffa, N. Bukva 10, M. Seldon 23, M. Azzopardi, CJ Cordina 2, N. Sultana, L. Tanzini.
Depiro: S. Galea, A. Attard 10, N. Grech 11, TJ Attwood 10, S. Kenely, M. Brincat 18, M. Mallia, M. Debattista 2, L. Vella, Q. Campbell 21.
Referees: B. Vassallo, N. Azzopardi, K. Dworniczak.
BUPA Luxol 86
Starlites Naxxar 103
(22-13, 21-31, 22-33, 21-26)
BUPA Luxol’s hopes of a play-off spot collapsed after Mellieħa’s win just before this game and this surely affected their psychological stance at the game’s tip-off.
Luxol fought hard but were set back when they lost their towering import centre William Claiborne on fouls midway into the third quarter, at 50-54, with the other import-pro Canaan Coffey once again on the sidelines through injury.
Starlites took full advantage of this and a 9-0 streak helped them open a more comfortable buffer which they also extended in the final quarter.
Led by Claiborne, assisted by a brace of hoops from Stefan Capello, Luxol had most of the first quarter which they closed 22-13 ahead.
The Naxxar side had another positive showing from Alec Felice Pace who led his teammates in the second quarter with a series of hoops whilst Myles Thomas, Jacob Bates and Matthew Scerri added a respective long-ranger.
At the other end, Marko Matijevic, who ended with an impressive 30-point tally, was troubling the opponents’ defence under the boards.
Starlites went 68-53 ahead shortly after Claiborne’s exit. Luxol tried to put in an effort but their missed free throws did not help as Starlites continued to score, even from long range, to close off for their 12th league win.
Luxol: J. Cefai, M. Sciberras 3, N. Buhagiar 4, P. Attard 9, JP Schembri, A. Trapani 3, L. Trapani, S. Opojevlic 4, M. Matijevic 30, S. Cappello 8, W. Claiborne 25.
Starlites: A. Felice Pace 20, I. Azzopardi, A. Azzopardi, I. Felice Pace 5, M. Fabri, L. Riolo 3, M. Scerri 12, J. Bates 17, L. Farrugia 2, K. Xuereb 6, J. Haynes 11, M. Thomas 27.
Referees: F. Ciurariu, I. Ciurariu, V. Nikolic.
Gżira Athleta 87
(14-24, 19-23, 28-22, 26-20)
Gżira Athleta gave a sprightly performance and came out just short at the final buzzer from taking home the victory.
Both sides presented one import player for this game. Athleta had Zachary Hudson available as Shawn Montague left the island earlier this month following a long-term injury whilst Hibs had again Christian Soderholm out injured whilst Ivan Demcesen was rested ahead of the Louis Borg Cup finals later this week.
The Paolites had guard Mason Vires on the court and he led his side’s scoring with 37 points, just a hoop more than Hudson at the opposite end.
Hibs were enjoying a 29-14 lead early in the second quarter with Keith Dimech also landing some buckets. Although Athleta momentarily reduced the deficit also with points off Matthew Gouder, Hibs still kept a safe lead closing the first half 47-33 ahead.
Athleta’s comeback came in the final quarter when they twice came to three points behind and then got the game at par, 77-77, midway in this final rubber.
Points off Francesco Mifsud Bonnici, who ended one point short of a 20-point game, and Hudson even gave Athleta the lead, 87-84, with just over a minute to go.
No hoops were scored till the final buzzer but Hibs managed to win four sets of freethrows, due to the foul bonus, and netted five to just pip Athleta at the end.
Athleta: Z. Hudson 35, J. Caruana, F. Mifsud Bonnici 19, N. L. Stefanovic 2, N. Xuereb 4, M. Gouder 17, I. Xuereb 7, R. Abela, B. Zammit 3.
Hibs: M. Vires 37, D. Bugeja 6, L. Farrugia 1, K. Dimech 16, A. Axiaq 11, R. Aquilina, M. Attard 12, P. Shoults 6.
Referees: Z. Dobrosavljevic, I. Simic, N. Azzopardi.
Starlites Naxxar (12/2) 26; Hibernians (10/4) 24; Mellieħa Libertas (7/7) 21; Depiro (6/8) 20; BUPA Luxol (4/10) 18, Gżira Athleta (3/11) 17.