The Malta Independent 26 June 2019, Wednesday

Basketball, Women's Play Offs: First ever league title victory for Starlites

Willie Vassallo Sunday, 5 May 2019, 19:41 Last update: about 3 months ago
Photo: James Galea
Photo: James Galea

Hibernians     69     Starlites GIG     73

(18-9, 25-21, 15-30, 11-13)

Starlites managed to put their names down, in the league title roll call, when playing in their first ever Play Off final. True, there was a Naxxar side, who contested, and lost the Play Off finals in 1999 after enjoying a 2-0 game advantage, but they weren't really the Starlites predecessors.

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Everything seemed against the youthful Starlites side, from before the start of the fifth, and final decider. They had to start without the aerial prowess of Josephine Grima, out injured. Then, in the third minute of the final quarter, they lost their influential stalwart, the Spaniard Patricia Arguello out on two major fouls.

Hibs were thirteen points to the good, at the interval, but Starlites wiped off their deficit, and forged in front. After Arguello's loss the Paolites rapidly went six points ahead, but Starlites picked themselves up once again, to register a game ending ten-point run, to clinch the title, and their third seasonal honour, after the Independence Cup and MBA Shield very early on in the season.

What about Hibs? They were galvanised with Grima's non-appearance, and dictated play till the break, as they carved up a good advantage. They were surprised after the interval and also fell marginally behind. After Arguello's ejection they took over for a little while and looked as if they were going to canter home, but Starlites' character showed through, and Hibs had to bow down leaving their new arrivals this season, the American Amelia Simmons and Leanne Duncan, still searching for their first league title success after losing out in three Play Off finals always against Luxol with their Athleta outfit.

Hibs raced into a 7-2 lead, with Elena Cassar's opening trey, Christine Curmi pulled Starlites back, to within a point. The Paolites increased their advantage once more as Sam Brincat and Duncan netted triples to open up a good first period lead.

Hibs were still edging further away in the next session as Santo Domingan, Deocelis Reynoso, and Kirstry Galea, the latter bagging the MVP award for the whole series of finals, kept Starlites in the fray. Hibs were on a maximum advantage late in the session but Arguello points diminished the deficit, although Starlites were still 30-43 behind, at the interval.

After the break Hibs were non-existent at first, with Starlites sweeping their adversaries aside with an early 16-2 run with Curmi, Arguello and Galea, twice, snatching a lead.

It was Duncan who stopped her opponents with an 8-2 personal run, and a triple as Hibs' advantage was regained. Arguello sank a quick brace of treys followed quickly by one for the Paolites' Simmons, but Starlites nosed in front till the end of the session with a close 60-58 score.

Arguello netted a fourth triple but was ejected soon after with her second major foul. Starlites were stunned momentarily and Hibs poured in a 9-0 run, which looked likely to continue, but it was not to be. Starlites gathered themselves and proceeded to take apart their adversaries.

Hibs looked helpless as their opponents' points tally continued to grow. Starlites first started with Reynoso then Curmi nailed a second triple which took her side in front. With Hibs unable to make any telling reply, Starlites had to wait till the last seconds of the match to net a couple of free throws on three different free shot line occasions and make the issue safe in the final seven seconds. Hibs were devastated and Starlites' enthusiasm knew no bounds as they clinched their inaugural league title.

After the game came the presentations. The MBA president Paul Sultana, and the Mapfre MSV Life Business Executive Martina Camilleri, presented the winning medals, with Kirsty Galea awarded the game series MVP before on embarking on her new College career in the United States.

The Starlites non-playing skipper Samantha Farrugia then received the coveted league trophy to add on to the other two honours making it a triple occasion. Hibs had to be content with the other three seasonal honours, the Super Cup, the Louis Borg Cup, and the St. James Hospital K.O.

Hibs: E. Micallef, E. Cassar 7, B. Agius, S. Brincat 6, I. Agius, J. Abela  S. Abela 10, A. Simmons 14, N. Farrugia,  H. Al Tumi, K. Caruana, L. Duncan 18 

Starlites: M. Zammit Cordina 4, K. Galea 11, M. Riolo 2, S. Farrugia, M. Bonett 8, G. Reynoso 12, C. Curmi 12, P. Arguello 24, M. Cutajar, S. Davies, A. Lupo

Referees: B. Vassallo, T. Mantere, D. Torok

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