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Starlites, Depiro confirmed as Division One Knockout finalists

Starlites' Kurt James (right) takes off on a fastbreak against Hibernians. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

The men’s BOV Division One Knockout returned last weekend for the semifinals as Starlites JSD and SiGMA Depiro secured safe passage to the final showdown at the Ta’ Qali Pavilion this coming weekend.

Title holders Starlites were handed a bye in the quarterfinals and the extended break paid dividends as they pushed past Hibernians who had overcome Valletta Fighters in the previous round.

Meanwhile, Depiro stunned Mellieha Libertas to take a last-gasp victory in an electric matchup that hands Depiro a chance for silverware while crossing out another trophy for Mellieha who have already fallen to Starlites in the Super Cup and John Tabone Shield this season.

STARLITES JSD 121

HIBERNIANS 108

(33-33, 31-21, 28-20, 29-34)

Hibernians import player Nick Brennen had been out injured for the past few gamedays, previously watching his side progress from the quarterfinals a week before, but the American guard returned on Sunday to open proceedings with a mid-range score. He then made it five straight points, from an eventual 26, with a long-distance score.

Starlites captain Alec Felice Pace responded with a three-ball and a layup to equal his tally between a pair of Mason Hix freethrows. Felice Pace, second in three-point percentage last month in Division One with 45%, stated his case again with another five made efforts on Sunday as the team’s leading scorer with 31 points. At the other end, Hix, February’s top three-point scorer in Division One with 12, led the Paolites and the game with 45 points in another solid performance.

Shots were flowing on both ends of the court with Felice Pace leading the Starlites charge while Ivan Demcesen joined Hix and Brennen in handing Hibs a three-point lead before Kurt James levelled proceedings with a complete and-one play at the end of a 30+ point quarter for both teams.

Davonte Craven opened the second quarter scoring to give Starlites the lead, hitting twice in between another Felice Pace three-pointer. Matt Attard added his second three-ball of the day as Starlites turned it into a 10-point game close to two minutes in. Hibernians’ Matthew Attard stopped this early run with a layup but Christian Hinckson hit seven straight points as a wider gap began to form.

As halftime drew closer, Hibs attempted to fight back but only managed to bring their deficit down to 10 at 64-54 by the break.

After the change of ends, James gave Starlites another positive opening before Hibs’ Anton Axiaq replied with a layup. Starlites’ Attard, who led his team’s threes with six on the day, hit his fourth before Felice Pace and Hinckson both made fastbreak scores. With Attard’s fifth triple, the lead overcame the 20-point mark as Starlites were in cruise control.

The final rubber saw Hibs head into greater danger when Jacob Bourke-Doggett hit from three-point range to start the quarter and with the last 7.49 to go, Hinckson put his side over the 100-point mark with a mid-range jumpshot.

Hibs trio Hix, Demcesen, and Brennen were the main contributors on offence for Mario Tabone’s side but with Hinckson going at full throttle in the fourth quarter, there was no way to stop Starlites and Paul Ferrante’s clan took a 13-point victory which sends them to yet another final.

STARLITES JSD A. Felice Pace 31, C. Hinckson 23, M. Attard 20, S. Aquilina, I. Felice Pace, M. Fabri 3, M. Scerri, D. Craven 15, J. Bourke-Doggett 12, N. Sultana, K. James 17.

HIBERNIANS P. Zammit, L. Farrugia 10, A. Axiaq 4, M. Attard 2, M. Hix 45, I. Demcesen 21, N. Brennen 26.

Referees G. Barbara, Z. Dobrosaviljevic, F. Ciurariu.

SIGMA DEPIRO 87

MELLIEHA LIBERTAS 84

(25-21, 18-22, 27-26, 17-15)

Tedrick Wolfe bagged his game’s first points with a dunk before Alex Peacock laid up the ball for a 4-0 run in Mellieha’s favour.

Despite playing fewer minutes than most of the starting five on Sunday, Peacock led the Northerners with 23 points and a rebound short of a double-double. He finished a point above teammate Wolfe who was fouled out in the final minute of the third quarter.

Wolfe was February’s third-best point-getter in the league per game with 26.3 but also the biggest fouler with an average of 3.67. This came into play again on Sunday as he reached his fifth foul to end his day after just short of 31 minutes of play and 22 points.

Ahead of all this, Wolfe was his side’s focal point as Depiro’s Kameron Rooks combined with Nikola Bozovic and Cameron Cornelius to secure a four-point first-quarter lead.

It was an all-Maltese second-quarter opening as Mellieha’s David Bugeja hit from three-point range for the opener. Andrew Aquilina replied with one of his own for Depiro, before adding a layup for five straight points.

Peacock levelled the quarter with a layup himself before three scores from Wolfe, in between Alfred Hollins’ first make since having been brought into the game by coach Ruben Baldacchino in the second quarter.

Depiro momentarily widened their advantage midway through the quarter but a Corrado Mercurio triple stole that lead away with 15 seconds to go. Nevertheless, it was all square at halftime after Aquilina hit from mid-range to beat the buzzer.

After the change of ends, Rooks and Cornelius combined for seven points in between a Wolfe jumpshot to open the second half. Depiro had more to offer through Bozovic, who hit three consecutive three-pointers within a minute of play. But Mellieha somehow found a way to stay within arm’s reach through efforts from Robert Bonnici and Peacock amid fears of a Kwame Thompson injury.

The Mellieha guard eventually returned to the court but it was Peacock who was the greatest threat, putting his team a point away before Bugeja changed leads with 7.50 to go.

An Isaac Bonett three-ball gave Mellieha their biggest lead of the day at five points but Miguel Mallia equalised with a three after another Rooks layup.

Bugeja hit twice to hand Mellieha a slender two-point lead with 1.17 to go, but Cornelius was the Mtarfa side’s hero late in the game when a layup and two made freethrows saw Depiro win by three points.

This result was a double bonus for Depiro a day after the women’s team secured a final spot against Starlites which means Baldacchino brothers Ruben and Adrian, who coach the two sides, will both be leading a team into their respective Knockout final this season.

SIGMA DEPIRO S. Galea 1, N. Bozovic 16, A. Aquilina 7, A. Hollins 8, K. Rooks 19, M. Brincat 2, M. Mallia 7, C. Cornelius 25, N. Bukva.

MELLIEHA LIBERTAS T. Wolfe 22, D. Bugeja 11; R. Bonnici 15, I. Bonett 3, R. Carabott, A. Peacock 23, K. Thompson 4, C. Mercurio 6.

Referees B. Vassallo, N. Azzopardi, A. Bayraktar.

KNOCKOUT FINAL

Starlites JSD vs SiGMA Depiro – March 10

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