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News / 2018/19 BHL champion is Cocks Riihimäki!

Baltic Handball League

2019.04.21 20:09

2018/19 BHL champion is Cocks Riihimäki!

What a Final Four it was to end the 2018/19 season in Baltic Handball League. Three extremely tight matches and the final was no different – Cocks Riihimäki became champions for the fourth consecutive year, beating ZTR Zaporozhye 23:22 (10:11). Bronze-medals went to SKA Minsk, who beat Dragunas Klaipeda 27:26 (13:13).

Cocks started their winning run back in 2016, when they defeated SKA Minsk 36:32 in the final. The following year their were narrowly 20:18 better than ZTR and 2018 it was Serviti Põlva's turn to lose the decisive match by 26:23. Fourth title in four years did not come easy, as Cocks was only fifth in the regular season, had to overcome Serviti in the quarter-final and only beat SKA in the semi-final after a penalty shoot-out.

Narrow lead for ZTR at half-time

With so much at stake, it was no surprise the start – and basically the whole first half – turned to be very nervous game from both sides. Anton Dereviankin made some good early saves in ZTR goal, while Maksym Karamyshev and Denys Isanchuk giving the Ukrainians 2:0 lead.

It took more than five minutes for the title-defenders to get rid of the zero on the scoreboard, but up stepped their biggest star. 27-year-old Nico Rönnberg scored three goals in a row and for the next 15 minutes it was the Finnish champion controlling the events.

ZTR's head coach Vitaliy Nat did have a joker in his card deck, as 20-year-old Vladyslav Zalevskiy – normally a third choice playmaker – came on, scored twice and with Oleksii Ganchev also on fire, ZTR moved ahead. It was 7:6 in the 20th minute, 9:7 four minutes later and in the 28th minute Ganchev extended the lead to 11:8.

Ukrainian side played very aggressively in defence and was often punished for it, earning six two-minute suspensions in the first half. Cocks' attack was not as flowing as usually, but they still managed to pull two goals back before the break with Teemu Tamminen scoring twice. 11:10 was ZTR's lead by half-time.

Cocks turned the game around in final 15 minutes

Andrii Akimenko extended the lead from counter-attack, but soon Tamminen and Andrei Novoselov made it 12:12. After Tamminen – again – made it 14:14, ZTR started to break away. In addition, Cocks lost Nils Kreicbergs to a straight red card. In the 44th minute unstoppable Ganchev put the Ukrainians already 19:15 ahead and it looked that there is a strong chance of a new champion.

But Cocks also knew how to tighten their defence and in the next 12 minutes, ZTR managed to add just one goal to their tally! In the meantime, Finns continued scoring and after Rönnberg was on target twice, Cocks took a 21:20 lead in the 56th minute!

Oleksandr Tilte equalized, but then experienced Russian, 37-year-old Viktor Kovalenko scored twice in a row and another Tilte's goal was only a consolation. Cocks was crowned champions of BHL for the fourth consecutive season! Rönnberg scored seven goals and was also awarded as a MVP of Final Four. Ganchev scored ten goals for ZTR.

"Almost identical match to our semi-final against SKA, only except the penalty shoot-out. I am sure, for spectators this Final Four was a real spectacle. We managed to turn the end of matches to our favour and I believe, one reason is the experience we got in the EHF Champions League. But mainly, as our team has great team spirit and motivation!" commented the winning coach Gintaras Savukynas.

Very even fight for the bronze

The third place play-off was a very tight affair, as neither of the teams ever reached more than a two-goal lead! SKA's head coach Ihar Papruha had decided to give a place in goal to 19-year-old Stanislau Yurcha instead of experienced Aliaksei Kishou, who was voted as the best player the day before in the semi-final – and it was a masterstroke!

Yurcha made incredible saves throughout the match, including stopping four Dragunas' penalty throws! SKA had a slim early lead, but in 28th minute Dragunas went 12:10 ahead. Half-time still ended 13:13. Lithuanian champion started the second half better and after two consecutive goals by Žanas Gabrielijus Virbauskas, led again by two, 18:16.

In the 44th minute Benas Butkus made it 21:19 for Dragunas, but SKA replied with three goals and went ahead. Until the end it was very tight, but SKA eventually took the win 27:26 and thus the BHL bronze-medals for the third consecutive season. Yulyan Hiryk scored eight goals for the winners and Karolis Bliuvas seven for Dragunas.

On photo: The 2018/19 Baltic Handball League champions Cocks Riihimäki. (Photo: BHL).