Even when the Final Four participants were clear, the regular season’s final weekend in Baltic Handball League managed to produce some exciting games. Everything was packed into seven games – last second victories, bitter defeats, comfortable wins and a draw. Final Four will take place in the coming weekend in Klaipeda.
VHC Šviesa Vilnius triumphed in the regular season, losing just one match in due course and will now meet a familiar opponent in the semi-finals next weekend, as Varsa-Stronglasas Alytus advanced so far for the first time in history. BHL “old-timers” Serviti Põlva and HC Dragunas Klaipeda will play for the second spot for Sunday’s final.
Raimondas Maldžius: we will not get comfortable
Šviesa finished the season in style as on the last day of the regular season second-placed Serviti Põlva came to visit. The Estonian champion had beaten Varsa-Stronglasas 28:23 the day before, while Šviesa was fresh. And it showed from the opening minutes, as hosts took 5:0 and 7:1 leads with Tomas Bernatavičius and Valdas Drabavičius in great scoring form.
Serviti had left several experienced key players at home for their Lithuanian trip, but fought well, as Russian playmaker Anatolii Chezlov pulled the strings. But never in the match allowed Šviesa their opponents to get closer than two goals and eventually won 31:28. Drabavičius scored ten goals, while Chezlov was on target nine times.
“We had control over the match events from the start, but of course Serviti was not here with their best squad and probably both teams were thinking about next weekend’s Final Four. So we definitely do not get comfortable – I would happily exchange this victory with a win next weekend,” commented Šviesa’s head coach Raimondas Maldžius.
“Overall we are of course happy with the top spot in the regular season standings. It was a shame we could not get Latvian teams properly into the competition, but we got some very good matches and important international experience playing Estonian clubs,” added Maldžius.
Dragunas and Viljandi took three points from the last weekend
Most of the excitement in regular season’s final weekend involved HC Dragunas Klaipeda, visiting Estonia. On Saturday, the Lithuanian cup-winner started brightly against Viljandi HC, taking a 4:0 lead. Viljandi’s youthful squad was not about to surrender and with excellent fighting spirit came back and even took a 14-13 lead at the beginning of the second half.
Dragunas again moved ahead by three goals and Viljandi fought back. With two minutes remaining visitors were up 26:24. Mihkel Lõpp pulled one back, Rasmus Ots produced an excellent save and Andrei Basarab equalized with 25 seconds to go. Dragunas’ last attack did not produce a goal and the match ended in a draw.
It was not much different on Sunday, as HC Kehra/Horizon Pulp&Paper hosted Dragunas. Lithuanians had a 14:8 lead in the 22nd minute, but amazingly Kehra scored eight goals in a row to go 16:14 up ten minutes later. Again Dragunas was 28:25 ahead, but the resistance from Kehra allowed to draw them level 29:29 with 75 seconds remaining.
After a couple of missed chances to both sides, it was Deividas Virbauskas’ goal two seconds before the whistle, which brought Dragunas a hard-fought 30:29 victory. Virbauskas was also the top scorer with eight goals, while Kehra’s Russian right wing Danil Gumianov scored six for the losers.
Kehra, Viljandi and Tenax added a win to the table
Both Kehra and Viljandi did taste victory in the final weekend, as Granitas-Karys Kaunas did not bring their strongest squad to Estonia. On Saturday, Kehra had an amazing start, going 5:0 up, then making it 10:2 and by 23rd minute leading already 15:5. They eventually won 31:21 with Gumianov and Sergio-Silver Kreegimaa scoring five goals.
The day later Granitas-Karys did not make it as easy for Viljandi, but the fight was there only for the first half, which ended 16:15 for Viljandi. In the second half, the hosts pulled away quickly and took a 37:26 victory. Left wing Mikk Varik was in especially good scoring mood, recording ten goals.
Latvian clubs have had a disappointing season, as due to COVID-19 restrictions they barely had chances to travel or play teams from neighbouring countries. To finish the season off, however ZRHK Tenax Dobele met Celtnieks Riga in a match expected to be tight. It was such only for the first 20 minutes.
Celtnieks led 9:6 in the 11th minute and 13:12 six minutes later, but then Tenax found new gears. Celtnieks had no answer to Maris Veršakovs’ skills and goals and the 35-year-old playmaker eventually scored 12 goals, as Tenax took a comfortable 41:27 victory.
Final standings of the regular season: 1. VHC Šviesa Vilnius 40, 2. Serviti Põlva 35, 3. HC Dragunas Klaipeda 34, 4. Varsa-Stronglasas Alytus 32, 5. Viljandi HC 27, 6. HC Kehra/Horizon Pulp&Paper 26, 7. Granitas-Karys Kaunas 26, 8. SK Tapa/N.R. Energy 20, 9. ZRHK Tenax Dobele 12, 10. Celtnieks Riga 8, 11. HK Ogre 2, 12. SK Latgols Ludza 2 points.
On photo: VHC Šviesa Vilnius finished the regular season with a win over Serviti Põlva and first place in the standings. (Photo: VHC Šviesa).