Another close battle took centre stage in game four of the 2023 women’s championship series and once again, the game went right down to the wire. A late 10-0 rally was influential for Starlites FIJO to regain a late lead and close off the series at 3-1 and thus win the 2023 championship crown, four years after their initial success in 2019.
The women’s 2022/23 season thus came to a close with Starlites winning the highest-ranked honour to add to their earlier MBA Shield success. On the other hand, Caffe Moak Luxol, champions last year, had to hand over the crown and closed the season with three honours, namely the Super Cup, the Louis Borg Cup, and the Knock-Out crown.
Starlites FIJO 57
Caffe Moak Luxol 49
(10-13, 16-12, 12-13, 19-11)
Caffe Moak Luxol raced to an early 6-0 lead in the third minute setting off with a Gladiana Avila jumper followed by a close-range hoop from Josephine Diaby (double-double 18 points with 28% accuracy, 18 rebounds, two assists, two blocks) and then Anna Fenech Pace ending with a lay-up off a Starlites’ turnover.
Amelia Simmons (43% accuracy with a double-double of 20 points, 13 rebounds, and 4 steals) opened Starlites’ offensive account and the Naxxar side gradually started moving close to their opponents and a Stephanie Davies hoop made it 8-9, however further close-range buckets from Diaby and Anna Fenech Pace helped Luxol to 13-10 first quarter lead.
The Violets started off again on a high note in the second rubber as a brace of Diaby hoops put them 17-10 ahead, their maximum lead in the game.
A late quarter 9-3 run brought the two finalists close again and even gave Starlites their first, albeit minimal, lead as a Michela Zammit Cordina (two of four three-point attempts) trey and hoops from Mikela Riolo and Christine Curmi (nine rebounds) not only neutralised the hoops at the other end, through Lisa Fenech Pace and Avila (double-double 14 points at 31% and 11 rebounds, four assists, three steals) but also closed the first half 26-25 in Starlites’ favour.
The third quarter was another very balanced affair, characterised by many turnovers at both ends. Sarah Fenech Pace (three rebounds, three steals) brought Luxol, momentarily to just a point away midway in the quarter yet the Naxxar side replied with two quick hoops from inside the zone from Simmons and Curmi for a 36-31 lead.
Luxol were very much still in the game, and they hit their opponents with five points inside 40 seconds to bring the game to par. The same balance in points remained at the quarter-end buzzer as Simmons’ jump shot was countered by a Mandy Mercieca (eight rebounds, two steals) hoop off an offensive rebound.
With ten minutes to go, the teams were tied at 40-a-piece.
The lead changed hands a couple of times in the first half of the final quarter. Luxol first had the upper hand through Mercieca and Sarah Fenech Pace, Naxxar replied through Stephanie Demartino and Riolo, only for the score to sway again in Luxol’s favour 47-46 after a Sarah Fenech Pace bucket off a Cristina Sollami assist.
Here, Starlites dented Luxol’s hopes of forcing the deciding fifth game in the finals series when they netted a game-high 10-0 run in a very delicate and important moment of the game.
Riolo (who was just an assist away from a triple-double with 12 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists) made a second three-ball after Simmons’ offensive rebound. The latter then grabbed a jumper on the shot-clock buzzer and a trey from the corner with 72 seconds on the clock.
Luxol’s desperate attempts, so late in the game, did not achieve the desired outcome, and Demartino’s free throws totally ascertained Starlites’ third win in the series.
At the end of the match, MAPFRE MSV Life Chief Business Development Officer, Michael Galea, accompanied by the MBA president Paul Sultana presented the championship medals as well as the Finals Series MVP award to Demartino. The latter Starlites’ skipper also received the league trophy as the Starlites clan celebrated this 2023 championship success.
Starlites: M. Zammit Cordina 8, M. Riolo 12, A. Saliba, M. Sciberras, M. Bonett, S. DeMartino 5, M. Fenech, A. Simmons 20, C. Cilia, A. DeMartino, S. Davies 2, C. Curmi10
Luxol: C. Sollami, M. Mercieca 5, L. Fenech Pace 3, H. Galea, G. Avila 14, K. Portelli, S. Fenech Pace 6, Diaby 16, S. Sciberras, S. Farrugia, M. Marmara, A. Fenech Pace 5
Referees: B. Vassallo, D. Torok, Z. Dobrosavljevic
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