January 31, 2021
Saturday’s both matches in Baltic Handball League were played without spectators, but not without audience. Hundreds of fans followed two fascinating matches online, as HC Dragunas Klaipeda beat Serviti Põlva 32:30 (16:17) and Granitas-Karys Kaunas took even tighter victory over SK Tapa/N.R. Energy by 26:25 (12:8).
All the people around the world must know by now, that planning is not easy in these troubled times. And same goes with BHL – originally a two-day weekend with eight matches was finally cut to two games. COVID-19 rules and regulations keep changing, so Estonian teams had to leave Lithuania after just one appearance and Sunday’s matches were cancelled.
Arturas Juškenas: tough match with high tempo and intensity
Anticipated classic encounter in Klaipeda between Dragunas and Serviti did not disappoint right from the first whistle. Two teams deserved each other, played fast and aggressively with goals – and suspensions – flowing for either side. For the first 26 minutes neither of the two teams had more than a minimal advantage.
Serviti led most of the first half, but it was the hosts, who took 15:13 lead after Lukas Juškenas’ two penalty throws. Serviti replied with four unanswered goals and went to the break 17:16 up. Dragunas came out of the dressing room more hungry, had an excellent 6:1 spell and found themselves in 22:18 lead by 36th minute.
Estonian champions got their act together and fought back. After Otto Karl Kont’s goal the score was 29:28 with six minutes to go. Eston Varusk saved two penalty throws inside three minutes, but Dragunas still emerged as 32:30 winners. Juškenas scored seven goals for Lithuanians, while Mathias Rebane was on target six times for the losing side.
“We expected nothing less – it was a tough match with high tempo and intensity. I believe Serviti has a stronger squad than us, but we were lucky after the break, when they did not score from several clear chances. After that we managed to hold on to the lead and I am happy with the win, but we need to improve our own game and not to expect the opponent to miss chances,” commented Dragunas’ head coach Arturas Juškenas.
Bučinskas scored the winner with five seconds to go
The second match in the evening was largely expected to be one-sided, as SK Tapa/N.R. Energy had most of their key players missing. From a normal starting line-up, only Vahur Oolup made the trip to Kaunas. And all started well for Granitas-Karys with their goalkeeper Lukas Gurskis in key role.
The 23-year-old Gurskis made several saves and scored the opening goal of the match. The hosts were 3:0 up inside six minutes. Tapa did not worry about the missing players and the squad with an average age under 19 put up a great fight. Oolup’s goal brought the game to 8:8 draw, but Granitas still went into the dressing room with a comfortable 12:8 lead.
After 41 minutes, the difference was still four goals, but Estonians strengthened the defence and came back. Tanel Kari’s counter-attack made it 20:20 with less than ten minutes to go. Five seconds were left on the clock, when Tadas Bučinskas scored the winning goal and Granitas took a 26:25 victory. Arminas Stankunas scored six goals for the winners, as Oolup recorded 11 goals for Tapa.
“We had a youthful squad, but everyone has been training hard and I am very happy with the performance,” said proud assistant coach Aron Jaanis, who was in charge of Tapa in Kaunas. “Defence was good and we used chances much better than recently in domestic league. Boys got a good feeling, that we can compete with strong opponents.”
On photo: Lukas Juškenas was deadly with his penalty throws and overall scored seven goals in Dragunas’ victory over Serviti. (Photo: HC Dragunas).