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News / BHL finalists are Cocks Riihimäki and ZTR Zaporozhye

Baltic Handball League

2019.04.20 21:40

BHL finalists are Cocks Riihimäki and ZTR Zaporozhye

2018/19 season in Baltic Handball League has only two matches left. In the semi-finals Cocks Riihimäki defeated the Final Four hosts SKA Minsk in dramatic encounter after penalty throws 26:24 (11:12, 22:22) and ZTR Zaporozhye beat Dragunas Klaipeda 33:22 (19:11).

Therefore in the final on Sunday title-defender Cocks will take on ZTR – a repeat of the final from 2017, when the Finns were better by 20:18. The teams met twice during regular season with ZTR winning away 28:22 and the match in Zaporozhye ending in a 26:26 draw. SKA and Dragunas will play for the bronze-medals.

Truly dramatic semi-final between three-time BHL champions

For the most of the first semi-final, defence was the key word from both sides, but at the start the main heroes were goalkeepers as Aliaksei Kishou from SKA and Vitalii Shitsko from Cocks both made some spectacular saves. For the first 13 minutes the game followed one pattern – Cocks went ahead and SKA equalized.

Last time the title-holder led was in the 16th minute with a score 7:6. SKA tightened their defence even more, giant central defenders Aliaksei Ushal and Viachaslau Bokhan blocked everything and Kishou continued to shine. Cocks remained goalless for six minutes and birthdayboy Ivan Brouka's goal in the 21st minute put the hosts ahead 10:7.

Cocks fought back and Nico Rönnberg equalized 11:11, only to see Mikita Vailupau sending SKA to the break 12:11 ahead. The Belarussians made a fantastic start to the second half and Cocks scored their first goal with almost nine minutes gone! By that time in the 37th minute SKA had a 16:11 lead.

One of the key moments came in the 48th minute, when SKA had two players dismissed and Cocks closed the gap to two goals. In addition, Giedrius Morkunas – replacing Shitsko in goal – started to make great saves. However, after Dzmitry Nikulenkau's goal in the 53rd minute, SKA was ahead 21:18. Cocks' head coach Gintaras Savukynas took a time-out and it worked.

Vitalie Nenita and Rönnberg scored and cut the deficit to minimum. Vailupau extended SKA's lead, but then saw Morkunas saving his penalty throw. Nils Kreicbergs scored from a difficult position and Rönnberg made it 22:22 with 25 seconds left. SKA failed to score again and the match went to penalty throws!

Rönnberg first hit the post and Brouka's attempt was saved by Morkunas. Next five players were all on target, but then Morkunas saved again – with his face – from Artur Rudz and as Bojan Zupanjac scored, Cocks had won in dramatic fashion! Rönnberg and Kreicbergs scored five goals for the winners, Nikulenkau recorded six goals for the hosts. It was no surprise the best player awards went to Morkunas and Kishou.

Less drama, but more goals between ZTR and Dragunas

It was a different story in the second semi-final. Not as much drama, for sure, but also the defence and goalkeepers were not always on show. The match started in breathtaking speed, as both sides used cleverly the restarts after goals to turn them into quick counter-attacks.

ZTR Zaporozhye took an early lead, but not more than a goal or two. Dragunas Klaipeda had problems penetrating ZTR's defence during positional attacks and Anton Dereviankin started to make crucial saves in Ukrainian side's goal. In the 15th minute Oleksii Ganchev put ZTR ahead 9:5 and five minutes later Oleksandr Tilte made it 14:8.

Dragunas pulled two goals back via Benas Butkus and Žanas Gabrielijus Virbauskas, but at 14:10 in the 24th minute, Lithuanian champion got their next goal only in the final second, as Lukas Juškenas converted a penalty throw. In between, Ganchev, Tilte, Dmytro Ilchenko and Andrii Akimenko had scored five unanswered goals and ZTR won the first half by 19:11.

ZTR came out of the dressing room with similar determination and Ilchenko, Akimenko and Tilte extended the lead to 22:11. Then Ukrainians became sloppy in attack and inside less than a minute, Dragunas managed to pull three goals back. For a while the match was even and the gap was cut to seven goals, but Lithuanians were having trouble converting penalty throws – in the end they missed six out of 11!

ZTR got their act together again and slowly, but surely started to break away further from their opponents. The final whistle saw ZTR winning 33:22 with Ilchenko scoring eight for the winners and Juškenas seven for losing side. Best player awards went to Dereviankin and Juškenas.

2018/19 BHL Final Four schedule:

21.04.  15:30  3rd place play-off: SKA Minsk – Dragunas Klaipeda

21.04.  18:00  Final: Cocks Riihimäki – ZTR Zaporozhye

On photo: End-to-end emotions after the dramatic semi-final penalty shoot-out between SKA Minsk and Cocks Riihimäki. (Photo: BHL).