It may have been just six games over two days in Baltic Handball League, but the weekend offered everything. There were surprises, clear victories, some narrow ones and a draw, but mainly there was loads of passionate and quality handball on offer in Vilnius, Alytus, Tapa and Põlva. And none of the five teams, who played twice, came out with four points.
BHL also has a new top three, as inactive ZRHK Tenax Dobele was pushed out of it by HC Dragunas Klaipeda. Serviti Põlva still leads with 17 points, as two Lithuanian teams follow with 13. Dragunas has one and VHC Šviesa Vilnius three games less played than the leader.
Tapa took a second surprising win over Lithuanians
Playing in its debut BHL season, SK Tapa/N.R. Energy in September caused a shock by beating Šviesa at home. Those two points remained the only ones until Sunday, when Tapa again surprised at home and won against Granitas-Karys Kaunas. The day before they had lost big against Dragunas, as Lithuanians took a 40:24 (18:13) win.
On Sunday it was an entertaining and very tight match all the way to the final whistle. For first 18 minutes neither of the teams had more than a one-goal lead. But Paulius Šarkauskas was in great scoring form for Granitas and the visitors got a 16:13 half-time lead. Tapa returned motivated from the dressing room and enjoyed a 5:1 period.
The fascinating match proceded with one team having a lead of one goal or two, then the other. Aleksander Oganezov’s goal with 42 seconds remaining brought a 28:27 victory to the hosts. Oganezov was on target nine times, while Šarkauskas scored seven goals for Granitas.
“The experienced players kept us in the match today. One of the key figures was our goalkeeper Mikola Naum, who still sometimes manages to surprise me with his movement, reaction and saves,” commented Tapa’s head coach Elmu Koppelmann on his 40-year-old goalkeeper.
“Considering how many key players were missing and how much strength we lost the day before against Dragunas, we can be very satisfied. The players kept discipline and managed also to stick to our game plan. Occasionally they even listen to the coaches,” joked happy Koppelmann.
League leaders settled for three points out of four available
Granitas-Karys did not return home happy, as the team had their chances also on Saturday against Serviti. Šarkauskas and right-back Matas Jurkevičius caused BHL leaders all sorts of problems and Granitas again took a half-time lead of 14:12. But then Serviti stepped up in defence, keeping the Lithuanians to just one goal for the first 17 minutes of the second half.
Serviti claimed a 26:22 win with Andris Celminš scoring five goals, while Jurkevičius recorded seven. A day later, Serviti did not back it up against Dragunas. The match between two old-timers of BHL turned very nervous and aggressive already in the first half, which ended in a 11:11 draw.
Estonian champion again started the second half well and after Ülljo Pihus’ goal had a 20:16 lead. Just six minutes later Deividas Virbauskas made it 22:22. Dragunas had the initiative in the final minutes, but the points were shared with a 27:27 draw. Pihus and Mathias Rebane scored six times for the hosts, but Virbauskas recorded weekend’s top score with 12 goals.
Egidijus Petkevičius: we can realistically think about Final Four
Viljandi HC was the only Estonian team on the road and for the second time this season returns from Lithuania with two defeats. On Sunday there was a clear difference, as Šviesa claimed a 28:20 (15:8) victory, but the day before Varsa-Stronglasas Alytus was made to fight for the 31:27 (13:9) win.
The hosts had a good start, were quickly up 6:2 and won the first half 13:9. Varsa-Stronglasas’ playmaker Žygimantas Micevičius led his team to a 21:16 lead in the 41st minute. Viljandi put up a great fight and just six minutes later the gap was minimal, 24:23. Varsa managed to hold on to the lead and won 31:27 with Micevičius on target ten times.
“It was not an easy game, somehow it turned quite nervous. Throughout the match it seemed we have the initiative, but every time Viljandi fought back and made it tight again. Our defence was good, but Micevičius of course proved his qualities as our leader and pulled us to victory,” commented Varsa-Stronglasas’ head coach Egidijus Petkevičius.
“Obviously we had a little advantage, as Viljandi basically came directly from the bus to the game. So we tried to keep the tempo high and use this advantage. Now the table looks good and we can realistically think about Final Four, but there are a lot of games still ahead,” added Petkevičius, as Varsa-Stronglasas moved up to fifth place.
On photo: The match between Serviti and Dragunas ended in a draw, but produced tensions, goals and as can be seen, even acrobatics. (Photo: Helin Potter).