ARMS Depiro 68
(after overtime: 64-64; 15-15, 12-14, 20-10, 17-25, 4-10)
Hibernians overcame a spirited Depiro side in a thrilling final to secure their 18 Knock Out title.
Although Kenyotta Jenkins had the initial hoop in the final, ARMS Depiro raced to an encouraging early 13-5 lead with Claire Ciantar setting them off and then the side’s top two scorers, import Kelly Koshuta and Julia Xerri, who had a very positive showing, continued adding Depiro’s tally.
An 8-0 Hibs’ streak, with the final’s MVP Ylenia Bonett grabbing a tris of buckets, brought the game at par and this balance on the court persisted all throughout the remainder of the first half.
Depiro had influential treys from Nicole Agius and Monique Caruana, the latter playing her last game locally before moving to the USA, whilst the Paolites closed the half with seven consecutive points, including a Julia Dabic basket, for 29-27.
Hibs’ top point-getter Jenkins described the match as very intense.
“The game was very intense on both ends of the floor and we knew Depiro was not going to make it easy for us,” Jenkins said.
“The game slipped away from us when we missed a lot of shots. Yet, once we settled down, we played at our own pace together with both defence and offence. I am extremely proud of how we fought until the end of the game. There were times where we could have given up, but we did not. I think that specifically shows a lot about our team’s character as a whole.
“We are right where we want to be, ready for the playoffs, which will also be very exciting.”
The third quarter was Depiro’s as the Mtarfa side set off with a nine-point run, with Koshuta well in the action. Hibs also missed six free throws late in the third quarter whilst Depiro continued with hoops from Xerri and Danika Galea for a 47-39 lead ten minutes from time.
Hibs had captain Samantha Brincat back on court after a long lay-off and the veteran guard said the match brought out the character of the Paola players.
“These are the kind of games that teach us adversity and what we are made of,” she said.
“Credit to Depiro for playing great offense and defense and were very close to victory. Despite our shortcomings, our team stayed focused and persisted on what we were doing right, hoping that eventually all will fall in place and then it was anyone’s game.
“In a blink of an eye, we were into overtime and we managed to win. It was a great team effort from all players both on and off the court. The upcoming playoffs bring new challenges as all teams seem to be performing well. I think it will be an exciting final series.”
It was still a five-point game midway in the last quarter, 56-51, after a brace of Ciantar free throws.
But Hibs overturned the score in the next three minutes with a 10-2 run including an intelligent assist off an offensive rebound tap by Hibs’ important utility player Ashleigh van Vliet after a missed free throw.
Van Vliet was visibly happy after the win.
“What a fantastic game and a true testament to the level and skill of the women’s league,” the Malta international said.
“Depiro deserves a lot of credit and respect to how hard they played. I’m so proud of the fight, composure and preservation of my team. Different players stepped up and made plays when it counted. This is what we will need to do, come playoffs.”
However Depiro were back on song and a Xerri trey, 27 seconds from the end of regulation time, put them 64-61 ahead.
Van Vliet had one free throw from two with seven seconds to go but then Depiro, who looked perfectly poised to win the trophy even after a deliberate timeout to move the ball up the court and Hibs still not in the fouls penalty, failed to inbound the ball on time giving Hibs an unexpected lifeline.
The latter did not fail and managed to force overtime with two seconds to go.
Two early baskets from Jenkins and Bonett upped Hibs’ morale further whilst Depiro looked distraught when they trailed 66-71 with less than two minutes left in overtime. Hibs controlled the tempo to celebrate the victory at the game buzzer.
“This was a tough game where both teams fought hard to win the title,” said Hibs guard Ylenia Bonett after being presented with the MVP award by Michael Galea, MAPFRE MSV Life Chief Officer, accompanied by the MBA president Paul Sultana.
“As a team it was not one of the best games we played this season, but we persisted and managed to turn it around so that we could come out on top. I personally had some ups and downs during the game, moments where I missed baskets and others where I helped the team.”
The winning trophy was handed to Hibs’ skipper Samantha Brincat.
The winning coach Norbert Borg summed the game up.
“From the very initial moments, one could tell that it was going to be a very close game. We performed good defense and managed to steal the ball quite a few times but, unfortunately, we committed a lot of turnovers and missed open shots from underneath the basket,” he said.
“As a result, this kept the score at par with our opponents. However, our determination kept us focused particularly during the last six seconds of the game.
“We played very good defence and forced Depiro to commit a violation during their outbound play. We took advantage of this as we scored and managed to force this final to overtime where we were then in control of the game.”
Depiro: M. Caruana 3, N. Agius 14, J. Xerri 19, L. Duncan, No. Agius, C. Ciantar 7, N. Hili, N. Ebejer, N. Borg, D. Galea 5, C.Fenech, K. Koshuta 20.
Hibs: E. Farrugia, K. Conti, I. Agius, Y. Bonett 22, A. Van Vliet 9, S. Brincat, J. Abela 10, C. Camilleri, K. Jenkins 26, N. Farrugia 1, K. Caruana 4, J. Dabic 2.
Referees: B. Vassallo, F. Ciurariu, I. Ciurariu.