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Starlites, Mellieħa reach knockout final

Starlites’ Darius George goes for the basket despite the challenge of Nikola Vasovic. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Starlites FIJO and Mellieħa Libertas are set to face each other in this season’s knockout final after wins in the quarterfinals and semifinals over the past weekend.

QUARTER-FINALS

Depiro 85
Mellieħa Libertas 93

(16-32, 25-27, 22-15, 22-19)

Mellieħa Libertas beat Depiro to move onto the semifinals. Libertas set off on a very strong note opening up a very early 23-4 lead as they punished Depiro’s offensive sloppiness when US import Connor Zinaich immediately showed his scoring touch on the day with a series of hoops, aided by his team-mates David Bugeja and Nenad Buvka.

Treys from Depiro duo Andrew Aquilina and Nicholas Grech, momentarily halted Mellieħa’s run but Christan Narciso’s clan still maintained their upper hand as baskets from Vukasin Jandric and Nikola Jovancic guided them to a first-quarter 32-16 scoreline.

The Mtarfa side had an encouraging start to the second quarter as Cameron Cornelius and Kameron Rooks were on target for an 11-2 run which was then, some minutes later, neutralised by Mellieħa as the latter registered an 11-point streak on their way to a 59-41 half-time lead.

The game’s tempo did not change for the good part of the third session with the margin between the two sides standing at 21 points, 74-53, late in the same quarter.

Yet, here Depiro passed through their best moment as two consecutive David Camilleri three balls set them off on a game-high 16-0 run to close the gap to just five points, 69-74.

A brace of Zinaich buckets was instrumental for Mellieħa to again up their morale and move to a late double-digit lead which was too much for any other Depiro comeback.

Depiro: S. Galea 2, D. Camilleri 6, A. Aquilina 17, N. Grech, K. Rooks 26, M. Brincat 13, M. Mallia 3, C. Cornelius 18, M. Debattista.
Mellieħa Libertas: S. Zammit 2, M. Falzon 4, D. Bugeja 8, R. Bonnici 6, V. Jandric 18, I. Bonett 2, N. Bukva 9, N. Jovanovic 4, C. Zinaich 40, M. Formosa.
Referees: D. Torok, B. Vassallo, F. Ciurariu.

Gżira Athleta 76
BUPA Luxol 80
(12-24, 16-30, 12-14, 36-12)

This was a derby between close rivals Gżira Athleta and BUPA Luxol which resulted in a game with extreme facets.
Luxol had the upper edge for the first three quarters of the game, where they also managed to open what looked to be a definite lead at 72-42 with nine minutes to go.

However, the tables turned completely in these remaining minutes as Athleta came storming back and outscored their
opponents to close down the margin to a few points.

The final buzzer came to Luxol’s relief as nobody might know what might have happened had there been some more minutes still left in the game, given the psyche of the players on the court at that moment.

Through buckets from the trio Tayler Mattos, Trevian Bell, and Nikola Vasovic, Luxol managed to forge very early to a double-digit lead even though Roland Griffin was notching hoops at the other end.

Two 9-0 runs in the second quarter continued to extend Luxol’s lead to 48-26 very close to the half-time interval.

Play was a bit more balanced after the break as the two sides now were showing more parity in their play at each respective end.

The game started changing face as Athleta banged in treys from Nazzareno Buhagiar and Billy Zammit and the margin now was halved.

Athleta’s run continued as Luxol failed to regain their earlier offensive form and the closing seconds had Athleta arrive two buckets away but had to succumb to the defeat as the final buzzer sounded to Luxol’s relief.

Gżira Athleta: F. Mifsud Bonnici 5, N. Buhagiar 10, L. Stefanovic, J. Ellul Dowling, N. Xuereb 8, R. Griffen 38, I. Xuereb 6, S. Vincic, R. Abela, B. Zammit 9.
BUPA Luxol: J. Cefai, N. Vasovic 24, M. Sciberras 7, T. Bell 26, N. Engelbert, JP Schembri, A. Trapani, L. Trapani, V. Englin, T. Mattos 14, M. Matijevic 7, S. Cappello 2.
Referees: Z. Dobrosavljevic, G. Barbara, I. Ciurariu.

SEMI-FINALS

BUPA Luxol 91
Starlites FIJO 95
(22-22, 26-26, 25-21, 18-26)

BUPA Luxol were back on the court less than 100 hours later as they faced a tough hurdle in league leaders Starlites FIJO.

The game resulted in a very tight affair with both sides going head-to-head all throughout the full 40 minutes of effective play with Starlites managing to just pip ahead in the closing stages to book their place in the final.

A Jean Paul Schembri three-pointer after an initial hoop from Stefan Capello set Luxol going as they enjoyed the first lead in the game as Bell and Mattos then picked up their first buckets.

The lead changed hands very late in the first quarter as the Naxxar side had an 8-0 run which started with a Matthew Scerri three-ball followed by a similar long ranger, this time from Alec Felice Pace.

A close range Mattos bucket made it a tied 22-a-piece game right at the end of the first ten minutes of play.

When play restarted for the next quarter, treys from Schembri, Cappello and Vasovic suddenly moved Duncan Fenech’s side 37-29 ahead but parity was again reached close to the half-time buzzer as Darius George hit a series of points for the reigning champions.

Similar to the second quarter, Luxol again took the lead even after the interval for a 66-60 score after buckets from Bell and Mattos.

Although Starlites momentarily managed to take a marginal lead after seven points on the go through George and Jordan Notch, it was still Luxol who responded quickly to again move to a 75-69 lead.

Skipper Felice Pace instigated his team to another run which saw them again pip in front and in the next few minutes the same player and George managed to thwart Luxol’s offensive efforts for a 88-85 lead in the last two minutes.

Here, a brace of three pointers from Matthew Attard proved very influential in moving Starlites to a six-point positive margin with the clock ticking away.

Although Mattos got a trey back for Luxol, time was clearly in Starlites’ favour as they managed to control their last possessions.

BUPA Luxol: J. Cefai, N. Vasovic 11, M. Sciberras, T. Bell 27, N. Engelbert, JP Schembri 7, A. Trapani, L. Trapani, V. Englin, T. Mattos 31, M. Matijevic 8, S. Cappello 7.
Starlites FIJO: A. Felice Pace 22, M. Attard 14, I. Felice Pace, M. Fabri, L. Riolo, M. Scerri 7, R. Carabott 3, L. Farrugia, N. Sultana, D. George 36, J. Notch 13.
Referees: D. Torok, G. Barbara, F. Ciurariu.

Mellieħa Libertas 82
Hibernians 76
(22-22, 22-21, 25-18, 13-15)

The second semi-final was also a close game, with both sides having very favourable moments only for Mellieħa to nose ahead at the end with Hibs not managing to maintain their earlier pace.

It was, however, the Paolites who set off on a very good note to go 18-10 ahead with Ivan Demcesen very active under the boards.

Five straight points from David Bugeja helped Mellieħa to start reducing the gap and they managed to bring the game to par, 22-22, at the close of the first quarter.

With Justin Bogle finding his shooting touch, Hibs again went ahead early in the second rubber.

Here, the people present saw two back-to-back respective runs. First, it was Mellieħa who scored 11 points in a go, mainly through Zinaich, but then Hibs replied with eight consecutive points, with treys from Bogle.

It was still not over in this second quarter as the lead again changed hands in the very final seconds. Mellieħa went in for the break with a very marginal 44-43 lead after concluding hoops from Zinaich and Jandric.

It looked like the game was moving to a definite outcome when Mellieħa started distancing themselves from their opponents with a double-digit lead for a 69-57 score almost at the close of the third quarter.

Hibs, yet, refused to throw in the towel, and points from Matthew Attard and Luke Farrugia were followed by further three-pointers from Bogle and the game was again open even if four points separated the two sides, 69-73.

This gap did not close further as Mellieħa managed to keep Hibs at bay with the latter also not able to maintain their earlier composure in the final stages of the game.

Mellieħa Libertas: M. Falzon 2, D. Bugeja 12, R. Bonnici 4, V. Jandric 18, I. Bonett, N. Bukva 4, N. Jovanovic 4, C. Zinaich 38, M. Formosa.
Hibernians: N. Cassar 9, P. Attard, L. Attard, L. Farrugia 7, L. Borg, M. Fall 2, R. Aquilina 2, M. Attard 8, J. Bogle 26, I. Demcesen 22.
Referees: Z. Dobrosavljevic, I. Ciurariu, J. Londonobv.

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