Which teams qualify from quarterfinals to Final 4?
News / Dragunas secured place in the Final Four
Baltic Handball League
Dragunas secured place in the Final Four
The setup for the Final Four of 2018/19 Baltic Handball League season is complete. The last qualifier was Dragunas Klaipeda, beating compatriots VHC Šviesa Vilnius in both quarter-final legs. Semi-final pairings will be SKA Minsk – Cocks Riihimäki and Dragunas – ZTR Zaporozhye. The host of the Final Four will be announced in coming days.
With just one place remanining in the Final Four, Dragunas was a clear favourite for the second leg, having won the first one in Vilnius 32:19. Just three days earlier the same teams met in decisive Lithuanian league match with Dragunas winning 35:27 (Karolis Bliuvas 6 – Karolis Antanavičius 7 goals) and claiming the first place of the regular season.
First time in seven years in Final Four
Dragunas started well in the return leg of the quarter-final, taking the early lead. Valdas Drabavičius – returning from injury – equalized to 3:3, but that was as close as Šviesa ever got. Midway through the first half hosts took a four-goal lead and the best Šviesa could do, was to cut it to two goals. But at half-time Dragunas was 19:15 ahead.
Despite having a 13-goal disadvantage from the first leg, Šviesa came out fighting for the second half. However, Dragunas proved to be too strong and run away with a 33:29 victory. Bliuvas was on target seven times, while Antanavičius, Drabavičius and Arturas Švilpa scored five goals for Šviesa.
Dragunas qualified to the Final Four for the first time since 2011/12, though in 2014/15 they won the one-season project called Baltic Challenge League. "Now that we have qualified, we would like to reach the final or as a minimum finish at least in third place," said Dragunas' head coach Arturas Juškenas.
"Of course it is a major challenge, as all the other teams in the top four are more or less professionals and probably have budgets 8-10 times bigger than our club. But it is not the budget that plays, so it will be interesting to see what we can do," added Juškenas.
Top-of-the-table domestic games for Final Four teams
The other three Final Four participants have all been in action on domestic front. Title-holder Cocks Riihimäki had to settle for a 25-25 away draw (Teemu Tamminen 7) against Dicken Helsinki in Finnish league. Both teams have 15 points in the table of second stage, but Cocks has one game in hand.
ZTR Zaporozhye played a very good first half in the top-of-the-table clash in Ukraine, but HC Motor Zaporozhye – recently reaching EHF Champions League's last 16 – stepped up in the second half and took a 30:20 win (Oleksandr Tilte 6).
Similarly, SKA Minsk was up against a EHF Champions League last 16 qualifier HC Meshkov Brest in the domestic league on Sunday. SKA gave away a six-goal lead and lost narrowly 30:31 (Dzmitry Nikulenkau 6). In midweek, SKA added a victory, beating Masheka Mogilyov 31:26 with Mikita Vailupau in unbelievable form, scoring 17 goals!
Eliminated BHL teams also continue their pursuit for domestic glory. Granitas-Karys Kaunas finished the regular season with a 34:26 win (Modestas Štarolis 11) over KKSC-RSSG-Grifas Panevežys and ending up third in the final table.
In Estonia, there was a top clash, where Serviti Põlva beat HC Kehra/Horizon Pulp&Paper 32:24 (Henri Sillaste 7 – Andrei Vakhnovich 6) and moved to first place. HC Tallinn defeated Coop Põlva 31:22 (Robin Oberg 9) and Viljandi HC beat HC Viimsi/Tööriistamarket 28:22 (Sergei Rodjukov 7).
On photo: Dragunas can celebrate (together with their mascot), having qualified to the Final Four for the first time in seven years. (Photo: Dragunas Klaipeda).