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News / Regular season ends with SKA Minsk qualifying for the Final Four
Baltic Handball League
Regular season ends with SKA Minsk qualifying for the Final Four
The 2019/20 regular season of the Baltic Handball League had its ups and downs, but it saved the best for last. Both group winners were determined on the final day in the head-to-head matches. SKA Minsk defeated ZRHK Tenax Dobele to take the first spot in the Final Four, while HC Kehra/Horizon Pulp&Paper and VHC Šviesa Vilnius played a draw, which was enough for the Lithuanians to finish top of Group B.
The key match was played in the House of Handball in Minsk and the two teams showed handball of the highest quality. SKA went ahead 13:8 by 23rd minute, but they did not count the fighting spirit of the visitors. Tenax had a great spell and to the dressing rooms the teams went on level 14:14.
SKA reached its target to finish first
Latvian champion showed their intentions to finish first and took a 21:18 lead in the 40th minute, but now it was SKA's turn to get their act together. The hosts eventually emerged as 29:27 winners and booked their place in this season's Final Four. Yulyan Hiryk and Mikalai Aliokhin scored seven goals for the winners, while Maris Veršakovs recorded six for Tenax.
"The match turned out very interesting, both teams made their best efforts and it was tight. We are very happy our players showed good spirit and in front of our home fans took this important win. For the spectators this was definitely a great game of handball, probably not so much for the coaching staff," commented SKA's team manager Oleg Lebedev.
"We set our target already before the season to win the Group A, so we could comfortably prepare for the Final Four. In some matches our quality was not on the level we wanted, so there is still a lot of room to improve. We are now looking forward to see who will be our opponents in the final tournament," added Lebedev.
In the other Group A match, Cocks Riihimäki beat Serviti Põlva on Saturday by 27:23, which eventually gave the title-holders second place in the group. Cocks had the upper hand for most of the match with Serviti's only lead being 18:17 in the 41st minute. Nils Kreicbergs scored five for Cocks and Henri Sillaste six for Serviti.
Šviesa secured Group B win with a draw
In Group B there was also a lot to play for, but the top two and qualifiers to the quarter-finals became clear after the first match on Saturday. In a tight encounter HC Kehra/Horizon Pulp&Paper came back from a four-goal deficit in the 45th minute to beat Granitas-Karys Kaunas 26:24. Uvis Strazdinš and Dmytro Yankovskiy were Kehra's best with seven goals, while Modestas Štarolis scored 11 for Granitas.
At the same time, VHC Šviesa Vilnius beat HC Tallinn 29:23 and remained one point ahead of Kehra before Sunday's match. It proved to be another exciting match in Kehra between two equal teams and the lead changed hands countless of times during the game. At half-time it was all square at 11:11.
In the 40th minute Šviesa took a 16:14 lead, but four minutes later it was 18:16 for Kehra. Another four minutes past and the Lithuanian side went ahead, just for Kehra to lead 21:20 in the 52nd minute. And the match ended in a 25:25 draw. Yankovskiy scored eight goals this time, as Karolis Antanavičius, Karolis Bliuvas and Laurynas Palevičius had five for the eventual Group B winners.
Viljandi HC ended a 19-match run without a win
HC Tallinn ended their season with a victory having not tasted a win since the opening match of the season. On Sunday, Tallinn was in control against Granitas-Karys and won 30:27 with Robin Oberg scoring seven times. Štarolis was again Granitas' best with nine goals, taking his total of this season to 52.
Even more remarkable victory was achieved by Viljandi HC, who defeated Celtnieks Riga on Saturday 34:30 and thus ended their run of 19 BHL games without a win. Just 16-year-old Hendrik Koks – son of the head coach Marko – scored ten goals, converting all six of his penalty shots. Arturs Klavinš was Celtnieks best with nine goals.
"Today's match proved why we participate in the BHL. Already during previous matches away in Lithuania, but especially today it was obvious how our young players are growing their self-confidence. Sure, we could have had some more points, but the experience gained in these international matches is invaluable," commented Viljandi's head coach Marko Koks.
The BHL season will now continue with three quarter-finals, which will be played on first and second weekend of March on home-and-away basis. The winners of the three ties will join SKA Minsk in the Final Four of the 2019/20 season. Quarter-final pairings are: Serviti Põlva – Dragunas Klaipeda, VHC Šviesa Vilnius – ZRHK Tenax Dobele and HC Kehra/Horizon Pulp&Paper – Cocks Riihimäki.
On photo: Mikalai Aliokhin scored seven goals against ZRHK Tenax Dobele, to help SKA Minsk to finish top of Group A. (Photo: Helin Potter/BHL archive).