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‘Let’s keep it up’ says Stelmach as Athleta two points from top

Athleta's Dajuan Moorer throws a pass during the team's game against Depiro on Sunday. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Hibernians stun Mellieha in overtime

Athleta secured a crucial victory against SiGMA Depiro last weekend as their playoff dream continues.

Sunday’s round of games in the BOV Men’s Division One also brought with it the campaign’s first overtime win as Hibernians stunned Mellieha Libertas into their second defeat of the season.

Later, Starlites JSD beat Valletta Fighters as they hope to pounce on the top two places with two games in hand.



(12-20, 20-26, 27-14, 19-16)

Athleta brought in several difference makers to their squad over the summer but apart from the free-scoring Malik Riddle and Dajuan Moorer, former Polish international Piotr Stelmach has been a vital part of coach Christos Kousidis’s clan this season.

Speaking to the Times of Malta, Stelmach said the win against Depiro was a mental game.

“It was two different halves – first we got hit because we didn’t start the game well and they had a big lead on us. But we cut it down because we chased them,” he said.

“I think we felt very good when we got in the lead again. And that gave us energy for defence. When we actually started playing defence, got some steals, and scored some easy buckets, that got us going. And that helped us to believe that we can win this game.

“In the end, the last few minutes were really tough but the energy we had, the easy buckets we made gave us the advantage when both teams were tired. It was a mental game – a game of mistakes – let’s say we made less.”

Having missed the previous game against Mellieha, the forward explained that containing Depiro centre Kameron Rooks was the team’s main focus upon his return.

“I was on antibiotics for a week, so if I had played last game, I would have missed this one. But the good thing is it worked out – Rooks is a great player, he’s a problem. He’s tall, he’s quick and he knows how to play. The whole offence revolves around him, so that was our main focus. He still scored – it’s hard to stop him, so he will score, it’s just the idea to contain him.”

Asked how realistic the possibility of Athleta making the playoffs this season would be, Stelmach said he does not look at the standings but that every time Athleta win, he would be helping achieve the team’s goal.

“I’m at this age in my career where the way I play is basically: each game is just another game for me. I come in, I try to help the team, and if the guys tell me ‘this is our opponent’, ‘that’s what we do’, that’s how I play,” he said.

“I don’t focus on the standings myself. I come here to help and to play. And if we win, that means I’m helping. So, every time, even if I don’t score or maybe score a few points, if we win, that’s the most important for me.

“When I heard that if we win today we have a great chance to be already in the playoffs, I was happy. And for me, it’s like, let’s keep it up, let’s win a couple more, and secure the place in the playoffs. Then playoffs are a different ballgame. But first, let’s play the rest – the next game is the most important.”

Five seconds is all it took for Riddle to score the game’s first point on Sunday as Athleta took a quick lead. Depiro’s Rooks hit next from close range before Cameron Cornelius scored from three-point range to hand the Mtarfa side its first lead change. This early dominance transcribed into a double-digit lead after an Andrew Aquilina three-pointer but Athleta’s Moorer dunked while Riddle euro-stepped his team back into close margins.

Nenad Bukva dropped a three-pointer to start the second quarter before two Michael Debattista triples in between a Stelmach score. Cornelius let fly another three before the Depiro guard and Rooks added more close-range scores as Depiro were up by 20 with 3.50 remaining in the first half. Athleta tried for a late rally but it was Depiro up 46-32 at the break.

Stelmach opened the second half with a three-ball before Moorer rose through contact for another score for Athleta. The Polish forward made it a six-point game with another long-ranger. The Gzira side were on the front foot, reducing the deficit to three points and forcing Depiro coach Ruben Baldacchino to call a time-out. The balance of the game could not be broken but it was Depiro who retook a slight lead ahead of the fourth quarter.

The final rubber showcased two sides as close as ever yet again but Depiro had the advantage of being in the bonus with 6.03 to go. However, Athleta remained in close vicinity and after two Luca Stefanovic threes and a layup for a one-point encounter, the Maroons were back on top for the first time since the first quarter. The Athleta guard became his team’s saviour in the fourth as with seconds to go, he met a low pass from Stelmach in the paint to beat the shotclock and give Kousidis’ clan a two-point win.

ATHLETA M. Riddle 21, F. Mifsud Bonnici 7, D. Moorer 19, M. Gouder 2, P. Stelmach 19, L. Stefanovic 10.
SIGMA DEPIRO N. Bozovic 3, A. Aquilina 6, K. Rooks 25, C. Cornelius 22, N. Bukva 4, A. Hollins Jr 4, M. Brincat 3, M. Mallia 3, M. Debattista 6.
Referees B. Vassallo, A. Bayraktar, F. Fabok



(19-29, 23-10, 17-18, 12-14, 15-11OT)

Robert Bonnici, starting the game in place of an unavailable David Bugeja, opened the game’s scoring with a mid-range jumpshot before Corrado Mercurio shot from three to give Mellieha the perfect opening.

Mason Hix hit first for Hibs with a three-pointer of his own but it was Libertas who looked the strongest in the opening minutes, and they proved this by going ahead by double digits before the first buzzer.

Tedrick Wolfe hit first as the second quarter began, Hibs’ Brennen replying to keep the margin at 10 points. Mellieha’s Bonett then hit from three but Anton Axiaq started a Hibs run that eventually brought them to within four before Kwame Thompson drove through contact for a successful layup.

However, it was Hibs’ quarter as they levelled terms with 2.10 to go for Mellieha coach Ian Terribile to call time-out. The Paolites took a one-point lead with a minute to go before Hix sent them back to the dressing rooms for halftime at 42-39.

Mellieha’s Vukasin Jandric wasted no time to bring the sides level with a threeball as the second half began. Wolfe gave the Northerners the lead again with a close-range score but Hibs were not about to die down as threes from Luke Farrugia and Hix countered a short rally from Mellieha, with Demcesen hitting a layup for a two-point Hibs lead. As the centre made it eight points in the final two minutes, the struggle became bigger for Mellieha, with Hibs also in the bonus.

The fourth rubber pushed the game’s tempo to its limits with Mellieha pushing to overcome the marginal deficit. And overcome it they did, as Wolfe and Thompson put Mellieha up by three. With 1.03 to go, Mellieha’s Bonnici was fouled out, his final issue being a three-point foul on Nick Brennen who missed one of the freethrows but made up with the game’s next layup. But with just two seconds on the clock, Wolfe scored one of two freethrows to send the game to overtime.

With five minutes added to the game, Demcesen hit for two before Hix scored from deep in the corner. Thompson replied with a long-range effort before getting replaced by Peacock who hit the next two shots for Mellieha in between a pair of Demcesen freethrows. Three Hix shots from the line and a mid-range score from Brennen kept Hibs ahead but it was Farrugia who saved the day in the final seconds after intercepting the opening pass from Mellieha’s attempted response. It was then game over as Hix hit another two shots from the charity stripe for a four-point win.

HIBERNIANSA. Axiaq 4, M. Attard 3, M. Hix 30, I. Demcesen 23, N. Brennen 18, P. Attard, L. Farrugia 8.
MELLIEHA LIBERTAST. Wolfe 28, R. Bonnici 8, V. Jandric 12, K. Thompson 14, C. Mercurio 5, I. Bonett 6, A. Peacock 9, E. Valdespina.
RefereesZ. Dobrosaviljevic, N. Rincon, F. Ciurariu.



(20-36, 12-18, 25-25, 18-22)

Christian Hinckson started Starlites’s offence with a three-ball before Miguel Fabri hit twice in between a Keith Charleston layup.

Last week, Valletta announced that point guard Andy Attard had signed a three-year contract extension and he celebrated this re-signing with a three-ball to open his game’s scoring.

Starlites showed a strong appetite for scoring and opened a double-digit advantage by half of the first quarter. This dominance continued and Valletta’s struggles grew as foul trouble gave the title-holders the bonus. Valletta’s Charleston led his side’s attempts, finishing the quarter as the only double-digit scorer on the court but it was Starlites who led by 16 at the first buzzer.

Starlites’ Jacob Bourke-Doggett, in his second game for the Naxxar side, looked better settled in on Sunday, with stronger defence and better looks for his teammates apart from his nine points on the day.

Through the newly-signed guard and captain Alec Felice Pace, Starlites widened the gap to 23 three minutes into the second quarter. Meanwhile, the Citizens were struggling – facing covered openings on offence and playing defence that was too dependent on just Charleston at times. This began to change as Desean Mattox evaded his marker with speed three times to score six straight points. Despite this, it was a 54-32 Starlites lead at the break.

Paul Ferrante’s Starlites started the second half just as they finished the first, maintaining their 20+point advantage with a layup. At the other end, Valletta’s Neil Cassar became his side’s offensive driver, getting into double digits. Nevertheless, the gap remained well in Starlites’ favour despite the Citizens getting into the bonus.

Charleston opened the scoring in the final set of minutes as Valletta were back to within 20 points, a margin which was re-extended with scores from Davonte Craven and Hinckson. Combining with Ian Felice Pace, the Starlites trio made a 31-point game before a timeout in the final 3.40. By then, the game was a deal, and Starlites rotated to rest their starters. 

VALLETTA FIGHTERSK. Charleston 23, J. Wait 3, D. Mattox 20, A. Attard 11, N. Cassar 16, N. Da Silva 2, S. Saakian, M. Farrugia, J. Lisondra, U. Satyanarayan.
STARLITES JSDA. Felice Pace 15, C. Hinckson 12, I. Felice Pace 9, M. Fabri 7, D. Craven 21, M. Attard 12, S. Aquilina, K. Fabri, L. Farrugia 2, J. Bourke-Doggett 9, N. Sultana 2, K. James 12.
RefereesG. Barbara, N. Azzopardi, A. Bayraktar.


Mellieha Libertas 20; Athleta 18; Starlites JSD, Hibernians 16; Luxol 14*; SiGMA Depiro 13; Valletta Fighters 11.

*Luxol did not feature last weekend.

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