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News / Serviti suffers first defeat, two quarter-final spots still open
Baltic Handball League
Serviti suffers first defeat, two quarter-final spots still open
What a fascinating weekend we had in Baltic Handball League! Undefeated Serviti Põlva suffered first loss, title-holder Cocks Riihimäki was made to fight in Dobele, a draw in Estonian-derby, personal scoring record of the season and two quarter-final places still to be decided in the remaining nine matches.
In fact, we only have one position of the total twelve in both groups which is clear – Cocks has won the Group A. All other placements in groups are still open and especially in Group B, the fight for the top three teams became more intense after Serviti lost away to Granitas-Karys Kaunas.
Kalmer Musting: Granitas took a justified win
The Estonian champion Serviti had gone twenty games without a defeat in domestic and Baltic league, but on Sunday were beaten in Kaunas. Hosts were ahead most of the game, Serviti never led and Granitas-Karys took a very important 34-31 win (Paulius Šarkauskas 7 – Anatoli Chezlov and Martin Grištsuk 6) in their bid to finish fourth in Group B.
"We knew it will be tough in Kaunas, as Granitas is undefeated in Lithuanian league," admitted Serviti's head coach Kalmer Musting. "Long trip, second game in two days and constantly chasing – it all tired us and Granitas took a justified win. It's still all in our own hands – we have to beat ZTR Zaporozhye at home to finish top of the group."
Day earlier Serviti was also pushed hard, but only in the first half by Celtnieks Riga. Estonians took a 33-23 win (Henri Sillaste 12 – Arturs Lazdinš 7). Latvian champions made amends on Sunday, taking their second win of the season over HC Tallinn by 30-23 (Lazdinš 16 – Enrico Anton and Raigo Pennula 5).
Already a leader in the scoring charts of BHL, 27-year-old left-back Lazdinš now established a new record of the season by scoring 16 goals and is now with 88 more than twenty goals ahead of his closest followers, Artur Rudz of SKA Minsk (65) and Valdas Drabavičius of VHC Šviesa Vilnius (61).
Granitas has six, Celtnieks four points and they will have to play eachother in the final game of the regular season. As the Latvians won at home, a simple win is enough for them to take the quarter-final place. Newcomer HC Tallinn will finish bottom of the group. Besides losing to Celtnieks on Sunday, they were also defeated by Granitas-Karys this weekend by 31-25 (Šarkauskas 12 – Markus Viitkar 7).
Cocks pushed by Tenax until the end
In Group A we have a winner, as title-holder Cocks picked up all four points from their travel to Viljandi and Dobele. On Saturday, Cocks defeated Viljandi HC 33-24 (Nico Rönnberg 6 – Kristo Voika 13), despite the efforts of two former Cocks-players Voika and Kristo Järve scoring 18 goals against their former team.
On Sunday, ZRHK Tenax Dobele pushed the champions all the way until the end. The Latvian league leader played without injured Austris Tuminskis, but still took a 10-6 lead, lost the first half 17-18 and were close also in the second half. However, Cocks came out victorious by 35-33 (Vitalie Nenita 6 – Nils Kreicbergs 12).
"It was our fourth game of the week and with long trip as well, it showed. In addition we travelled without our main goalkeeper Giedrius Morkunas and against Viljandi, Vitalii Shitsko was injured. So against Tenax, 22-year-old Kalle Alander had to play he full 60 minutes in goal," explained Cocks' head coach Gintaras Savukynas, who also lost Theo Westerlund to injury on Saturday.
"But I was also very impressed by Tenax – they played with high motivation and it was a very good game of handball," praised Savukynas. "Maybe in the end our bigger experience showed and we managed to turn it to our favour. It was an excellent test for us before EHF Cup games and we saw many things, which we have to improve during the week."
Sandris Veršakovs: I am very satisfied with my team
Tenax did claim two points during the weekend, as on Saturday they had beaten HC Kehra/Horizon Pulp&Paper at home by 31-29 (Oskars Arajs 7 – Kaspar Lees 11). It was a tight game, where Kehra was still leading 29-28 with four minutes to go, but the hosts managed to score three unanswered goals.
Tenax now have 10 points, just as Dragunas Klaipeda, but the Lithuanian champion has a game in hand, while Tenax has to play their last match away at Viljandi HC, who lost their chances to qualify. "I will not look at the table or for possible opponents for quarter-final, I am sure both us and Viljandi want to win the final match," said Sandris Veršakovs, the head coach of Tenax.
"On Saturday we needed the win, but Kehra put up a good fight, maybe the luck was on our side in the end, plus the home crowd supported us very well," commented Veršakovs. "On Sunday we had nothing to lose and the players performed with nice freedom without having any pressure."
Veršakovs also explained the reasons behind missing Tuminskis: "He has a back problem, but should be back in a week or so. But luckily handball is a team sport and when one leader is missing, others will step up. On Sunday, Nils Kreicbergs played very well and in general I am very satisfied with my team's performance over the weekend."
Dragunas gets a derby-win, Estonian derby ends in a draw
Two local derbies also took place this weekend. Dragunas Klaipeda had to fight very hard to beat VHC Šviesa Vilnius at home. The visitors took 12-7 lead, but got back to level with a 5-0 spell. After 38 minutes the scores were level 22-22, but then Dragunas' amazing 8-0 sprint decided the match and they took a 36-28 win (Žanas Gabrielius Virbauskas 7 – Valdas Drabavičius 7).
"It was a hugely unfortunate game for us and looking back, I would rather have lost this match than live now with the injuries we suffered," explained Arturas Juškenas, the head coach of Dragunas. Giant left-back Lukas Simenas had his Achilles-tendon broken and his season is over, while playmaker Lukas Juškenas suffered a knee injury, the extent of which is still to be determined.
"As for the match, it was a good game and Šviesa played very well, as they also needed points," said Juškenas. "I am not completely satisfied how we executed the game plan, but we showed great character and I liked the fighting spirit in our players. We did win, but at what cost…"
As usually, the Estonian derby between Viljandi HC and HC Kehra/Horizon Pulp&Paper was a very equal affair. Viljandi was ahead 25-22 with five minutes to go, but Kehra managed to fight back and it ended in a 26-26 draw (Kristo Voika 8 – Mikita Yermashevich and David Mamporia 7).
"We did have a good lead, but then tiredness of second match in two days hit us," admitted Viljandi's head coach Marko Koks. "Kehra's playmaker Uku-Tanel Laast was sent off and they even started to play better after that. Plus we did not manage very well in defense, when they used seven against six in attack."
While Viljandi's goals on both matchdays mostly came from experienced Voika and Järve, Koks praised Kehra's birthday boy David Mamporia, who scored seven goals on his 17th birthday: "The youngster was very good, he made different shots and frustrated our goalkeeper Rasmus Ots on several occasions."
On photo: Kristo Voika of Viljandi HC was on fire against his former club Cocks Riihimäki, scoring 13 goals. (Photo: Helin Potter).