The Malta Independent 20 August 2019, Tuesday

Basketball, BOV League Play Offs, Men Div. I: Athleta clinch 11th title after third final match

Willie Vassallo Wednesday, 1 May 2019, 21:16 Last update: about 5 months ago
Photo: James Galea
Photo: James Galea

Hibernians     88     Gzira Athleta     93

(17-20, 19-23, 21-24, 31-26)

It was the shortest route possible, for Athleta, to reclaim the league title, after an absence of four seasons. This was their 11th league success in all, and now they are two victories shy of Luxol, who have bagged 13 league titles.

They strode in front, shortly after the start of the encounter, and stayed there, but for a brief period, in the second session. Hibs went really close, late in the game, but Athleta held out their opponents' last frantic efforts, to close down the series, with three straight victories. Hibs' play was not that convincing, at first, although they were never too far away from their adversaries. When they staged their last surge, it was the Spaniard, Alvaro Lizaur, sinking his triples, as he did, from the second period onwards. If it was not for the remarkable shooting of Athleta's Matthew Gouder,  Hibs could have forced the fourth match, but Americans, Vincent Pace, Julio Guity and Connell crossland, did enough to thwart Hibs, who had Italian, Luca Tardito, given special attention, and Canadian, Chad Cuschieri Patus coming into his own after the interval. Athleta were more aggressive in these last two finals, and the Paolites' loss, after overtime, in the opening encounter seemed to have hit them hard. They again had skipper, Marco Matijevic, missing, and their Serbian, Ivan Demcesen, stayed on the bench.

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Hibs were twice a bucket in front, at the start, with Athleta going haead a little later. The Paolites tied the score, but that was the last time that they didn't trail their opponents. A 10-0 run, with Gouder's brace of treys, established a good lead. Hibs recovered, to go within three points, with a Roderick Vella triple, his only points in the game. The second session had Lizaur and Cuschieri patus making triples, as the Paolites sneaked in front. Athleta's reply was a 9-2 Runas Connell and Pace restored their side's advantage. Hibs dug deep, and Lizaur came to the fore, with two quick treys, but Pace made a triple of his own, and late Connell points had Athleta on a 43-36 halftime lead.

After the break the points were easier for both sides. The Paolites relied on their treys, from Luke Farrugia, Cuschieri Patus and Lizaur, as they countered Guity's hoops, which came thick and fast, for Athleta. The latter side established a double-digit advantage, and more Gouder and Pace triples had Hibs trailing, on a 57-67 score. The last quarter saw Kwame Thompson getting in among the Athleta scorers and his side was boosted to a better 76-63 scoreline. The Paolites responded well, to cut down on their deficit, with more treys, braces by Lizaur and Cuschieri Patus, and another from Farrugia, but they were denied an advantage, as Gouder sank a trio of triples, in a short time. Late Tardito hoops took Hibs into a serious contention, but a confused ending, with turnovers at either end, had Athleta hanging on, and Pace delivered the coup de grace, with his last two free shots, with seven seconds remaining on the clock.

Athleta were the new league winners, dethroning the same Hibs, and adding on their Louis Borg Cup success. The Paolites' consolation were the Super Cup and K.O. victories. The season's other honours went to Luxol, in the Independence Cup, and Starlites bagged the MBA Shield.

After the match the BOV Chief Officer, Anthony Scicluna, and the MBA President, Paul Sultana, presented medals to the winning side. The MVP award, for the whole series, went to Vincent Pace, and skipper, Peter Shoults, received the league trophy, his fourth league title, along with those, with Siggiewi and twice with Virtus.

Hibs: R. Vella 3, P. Attard ,  K. Sultana , L. Farrugia 8, M. Formosa, I. Bonett, L. Tardito 14, A. Axiaq 4, A. Lizaur 37, I. Demcesen , C. Cuschieri Patus 22

Athleta: N. Vasovic, C. Crossland 15, P. Shoults 4, L. Stefanovic, A. Perunicic, N. Xuereb, M. Gouder 26, K. Thompson 4, V. Pace 23, J. Guity 21

Referees: B. Vassallo, T. Mantere, M. Hraisha

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