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Watch: Starlites face stiff competition in Shield final against Hibernians

Starlites and Hibernians face off in Thursday's Shield final. Photo: Wally Galea

League leaders Starlites Naxxar will be in for a tough standoff against second-placed Hibernians in the National Shield final today (tip-off: 15.45), in what will be a replay of the 2018-19 final when it was the Naxxar side that had won the title.

The sides had already met in their first outing of the tournament but have faced each other four times this season. Speaking to the Times of Malta, Starlites coach Paul Ferrante believes it should be a great spectacle.

“We faced Hibs on four different occasions – all games were close. We managed to get the edge in three of our encounters, so it promises to be another close game,” Ferrante said.

Starlites have had an impressive season so far, winning all but one game of their 11 played so far, and with the playoffs right around the corner, their place will be surely secured.

“This season has been a continuation of the past two seasons for our team,” Ferrante explained, “ This year especially, it has been important to keep the top spot in the light of the new MBA (Malta basketball Association) rule regards to the pandemic.

“In contrast with the past two seasons, this year, if the league stops, the leaders will be crowned champions.

Asked about how their current momentum helps for the coming important games, Ferrante admits that while past games are important, every game must be taken in its own merit.

“Teams evolve throughout the season, not only tactically, but also with regards to team chemistry and other aspects of the game – adjustments which all teams make in order to adapt to opposing teams. At this point of the season, all teams can beat each other depending on the day, and even more if and when teams have key players missing.”

The Starlites coach, a three-time winner of the shield – having won it twice before 2019 with Virtus – lauded the growth of his team. The team has brought in three import players – Jacob Bates, Jamiah Windom-Hayes, and Myles Thomas – and Malta international Kurt Xuereb this season. Ferrante believes today’s final will be “a very good test for our team in preparation for the playoffs”.

On the other end, Hibernians coach Mario Tabone believes that his side has all the capabilities to win today’s final. Hibernians, second in the league standings this season, have already eliminated Starlites from the Knock-Out and will be looking to deal another blow.

“It’s going to be a tough game,” Tabone said, “Starlites this year are one if not the best side around at the moment. Every time we’ve played against them this year, in reality, we’ve only lost with close margins but in the game that mattered the most – the knock-out semifinal – we managed to beat them. So, I believe that we have the chance to do it again.”

Emphasising that the season’s objectives are the knockout and the league, Tabone believes the season so far has been positive. The side roped in Malta international Peter Shoults over the summer and Tabone praised the way he has fit in with the team.

“Contrary to all those who said that Peter Shoults is not a team player, in reality, he’s a great team player and he has fit in very well with the team,” he said.

“We also have Matthew Attard, who is only 17 and whom we are considering our young player. He’s fitting in and game after game, he’s doing really well. As a team, we don’t have any players who don’t fit into our plan in terms of character and I’m happy with the way things are progressing.”

In spite of this, Hibernians will need to overcome the hurdle of playing with Malta international David Bugeja – out with covid-19, while Christian Soderholm is questionable after an ankle injury.

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