Hibernians overcame Mellieħa Libertas’ challenge in the final series of the Louis Borg Cup to win both ties played over 48 hours and thus landed their hands on this trophy for the second time in history after their initial Cup success four years ago in 2018.
This was also Hibs’ second seasonal honour after they had already raised the MBA Shield earlier this year.
MELLIEĦA LIBERTAS 154
Mellieħa Libertas 76
(27-28, 20-21, 18-21, 11-34)
Mellieħa Libertas led for most of the first quarter as they quickly neutralised Hibs’ initial two hoops from Anton Axiaq and jumped ahead with an Isaac Bonett trey sandwiched between a respective bucket from the US tandem Austin Wrighten and Malik Seldon.
Although the Paolites had good conclusions from Keith Dimech and Ivan Demcesen, the northerners kept the upper edge and even opened a 27-19 late lead after a Nikola Vasovic jumper.
Hibs twice overturned the score momentarily, albeit with a marginal one-point buffer, after threeballs from the returning Christian Soderholm and Peter Shoults. But Mellieħa found a positive momentum for a 9-0 streak to move 42-34 ahead.
However, they did not manage to maintain this lead until the interval as Hibs recovered the lost ground with a closing
10-0 run in the first half, with six points off Soderholm, for a very tight 49-47 Hibs lead at the change of ends.
The game’s tempo remained practically the same in the third quarter with Mellieħa even again taking the lead in the middle part of this rubber after points off Nenad Bukva and Wrighten.
Things changed completely in the final quarter when Hibs outplayed an erratic Mellieħa side to not only open up a large double-digit lead but also make a solid move to win this cup.
Mason Vires and David Bugeja, who both had until then had a somewhat quiet offensive day, started notching a series of points and they shared 23 of their side’s 34 points in the last quarter with youngsters Luke Farrugia and Matthew Attard also respectively adding a trey.
Mellieħa Libertas fell into the trap of hurrying up their plays, possibly also not giving much thought to the fact there was a second game 48 hours after, and Hibs took full advantage and a 14-0 run also helped them to reach the century mark.
Mellieħa: A. Wrighten 19, M. Falzon 3, N. Vasovic 16, I. Bonett 8, M. Seldon 20, N. Bukva 10, C. Briffa, M. Azzopardi, N. Sultana, L. Tanzini.
Hibs: M. Vires 15, D. Bugeja 18, L. Farrugia 3, K. Dimech 8, A. Axiaq 10, M. Attard 11, C. Soderholm 19, I. Demcesen 14, P. Shoults 6.
Referees: Z. Dobrosavljevic, K. Dworniczak, N, Azzopardi.
Mellieħa Libertas 78
(19-21, 26-16, 20-20, 29-21)
Few envied Mellieħa Libertas’ task of trying to overturn a hefty 28-point deficit from the first game played two days before.
Hibs made matters a bit worse for their opponents when they had a good start to this return match with treys from Vires, Soderholm, and Dimech, inside the first four minutes, placing the Paolites 13-4 ahead.
Without a doubt, even if the aggregate margin was large, Mellieħa were also hoping for at least a win over the 40 minutes of regular time in this second game, possibly also in view for a psychological boost ahead of another final these two sides will be playing very imminently, namely the BOV knockout final on March 31.
A series of hoops from Seldon and Wrighten not only neutralised points achieved at the other end through Demcesen but also overturned the score in Libertas’ favour 21-19 by the end of the first quarter.
Mellieħa managed to keep the lead for a good part of the second quarter as Seldon was quite on song even ending with a 40-point tally.
A Shoults and Soderholm respective three-ball and points off Vires and Axiaq in between helped Hibs to a lead-changing 10-0 run. Although Mellieħa resorted to two time-outs, the Paolites still continued to close off the half with a 45-37 advantage.
The third rubber was a complete balance as the two sides shared 40 points in an equal manner.
Bugeja and Dimech led Hibs to 53-41 lead but Mellieħa were still well in the running when they replied with a 9-0 streak through Vasovic and Seldon and this time it was Hibs who had to stop the tempo with a timeout.
It was still a three-point game until eight minutes from time, 65-62, after a Miguel Falzon and-one play for Mellieha.
However, Hibs here made a decisive step to another win when they outscored their opponents 12-0 in the next three minutes with Demcesen grabbing three hoops.
Mellieħa’s reaction was somewhat sporadic at this point with Wrighten notching his side’s last ten points whilst Hibernians continued more points mainly through their top scorer Vires and the local duo Bugeja and Dimech in the final minutes.
At the end of the game, Mr Stephen Vella, accompanied by MBA president Paul Sultana, presented the medals to both sides as well as the winners’ trophy to Hibs’ captain Anton Axiaq.
HIBERNIANS: M. Vires 23, D. Bugeja 13, L. Farrugia 6, K. Dimech 12, A. Axiaq 4, R. Aquilina, M. Attard 2, C. Soderholm 13, I. Demcesen 15, P. Shoults 6.
MELLIEĦA: A. Wrighten 22, M. Falzon 5, N. Vasovic 7, I. Bonett 4, C. Briffa, M. Seldon 40, N. Bukva, C. Briffa, M. Azzopardi, N. Sultana, L. Tanzini
Referees: D. Torok, F. Ciurariu, I. Ciurariu.
SATURDAY – BOV Men League
Starlites vs Mellieħa 11.15
Gżira Athleta vs Luxol 13.30
Depiro vs Hibs 15.45