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Starlites complete clean sweep for Championship title

Starlites FIJO celebrate with the league trophy. Photo: Wally Galea

Starlites FIJO 96
Mellieha Libertas 90
(26-14, 17-30, 27-27, 26-19)

The 2022 BOV Championship trophy heads to Naxxar after Starlites FIJO made it a clean 3-0 sweep in the finals series against Mellieħa Libertas. However, game three was a very tight affair and the northerners pressed very hard and could have easily kept the series alive as Mellieħa were very close to land the victory.

After leading the league standings only to see the league cancelled, due to COVID-19, in the last two seasons, Starlites managed to achieve their target this time around.

“First of all, I would like to congratulate Mellieħa for being incredibly worthy opponents in this finals series and always giving the best they have got,” said team captain and league finals MVP, Alec Felice Pace.

“From our end, I am very proud of what we managed to achieve this season. All our local players, save Kurt Xuereb, this year are nursery products and this is proof of all the hard work that many individuals are doing behind the scenes.

“I have to admit that it was a very tough in the past two seasons with plenty of highs and lows, but in the end, we were able to learn from it and reach our goal this year.”

Kurt Xuereb, who joined Starlites early this season, contributed to coach Paul Ferrante’s game plans.

“We knew that until we had the trophy in our hands we cannot take anything for granted,” Xuereb said.

“When I joined Starlites this season, I could feel the desire the team had to get to the title. Mellieħa played well over the three games but I think our depth bothered them in the end and we were able to execute the game plan we had. I think we played some great basketball.”

Xuereb and Myles Thomas set Starlites off on a high note and a very early 12-4 lead and the Naxxar side continued to dominate the first rubber including a brace of final hoops from Jamiah Windom who summed up his experience in Malta as “one to remember”.

“Playing with the Starlites was so much fun,” Windom said.

“My teammates were so welcoming and made me feel that I belonged. This season taught me a lot about myself as a player and fitting into a role. Then, winning this championship was the icing on the cake.”

However, despite being deprived of the services of yet another Serb element, as this time Nikola Vasovic was also a no show to add to the duo Jandric and Bukva who were suspended by the club before the start of this series, Mellieħa recovered from the slow start which saw them end the first quarter 14-26 behind.

In fact, Libertas had a strong start to the second quarter with a 17-5 run which brought the game at par, led by a commendable offensive performance from Malik Sheldon, who netted 42 personal points, and assisted by compatriot Austin Wrighten and locals Isaac Bonett and CJ Cordina.

At the interval, Mellieħa were just pipping their opponents, 44-43, and the third quarter was possibly the best of the game with both sides equally sharing 54 points.

Mellieħa kept the upper edge and even enjoyed a maximum 70-62 lead only for Starlites to immediately bounce back with treys from Matthew Scerri and Jacob Bates.

Young Scerri was very happy after the trophy presentation.

“Winning three hard-fought games in a row showed the strength and chemistry that we have managed to build together and I feel that we have made ourselves proud to be part of such a dynamic squad. Massive thanks must go to the supporters who were with us through all the ups and downs in this season,” Scerri said.

On the other hand, shooting forward Bates, who assisted his team also with a good number of defensive rebounds and assists, cherished his playing stint in Malta.

“I will remember the relationships I have made with my team-mates and the Starlites’ family for the rest of my life,” Bates said.

“Winning a championship with this team is special and we deserve it. Starlites has been in first place for years, but due to COVID, they were not able to compete for the championship, and now we were able to finish what they started. I am really honoured to be a part of it.”

With the game still at par, 79-79, midway in the last quarter, Starlites nailed a very influential late 11-1 run with Myles Thomas well in the midst of play. Thomas praised his club after the win.

“Coming here after transferring from Kosovo, I have receiving nothing but love and was immediately accepted as a professional from the staff, fans and team-mates,” Thomas said.

“Throughout the season, we have had our ups and down but we managed to stay and work hard together, building a strong team bond and having the chemistry needed to lift the championship. I truly wish the best to this club, from the team captain, who is an incredible vocal leader, to the younger players.”

This young element in the Starlites’ squad was also highlighted by skipper Felice Pace, who had a good percentage shooting performance on the day.

“We are still a very young team and sometimes this was evident on the court, along the season, when we were not able to maintain momentum. Yet, seeing the nursery products featuring in the first division augurs well for the future,” Felice Pace said.

Leading with double figures so close to the final buzzer was a boost for the Naxxar side yet Mellieħa were not to be outdone and put in a last ditch effort, with further Sheldon points, and came four points away but a mid-court transition turnover proved somewhat detrimental as Starlites converted the play and then moved to ascertain the win.

After the game, Charles Azzopardi, Head CSR at Bank of Valletta, accompanied by the MBA president Paul Sultana, presented the trophy and winning medals to the Starlites’ clan.

Starlites: A. Felice Pace 17, I. Azzopardi, A. Azzopardi, I. Felice Pace 5, M. Fabri, L. Riolo, M. Scerri 11, J. Bates 23, L. Farrugia, K. Xuereb 11, J. Haynes 7, M. Thomas 22.
Mellieħa: A. Wrighten 13, M. Falzon 6, I. Bonett 10, M. Sheldon 42, C. Briffa, M. Azzopardi 2, CJ Cordina 17, Sultana, Tanzini.
Referees: B. Vassallo, G, Barbara, K. Dworniczak.

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