U20 MEN DIVISION B
|Henrik Sirko 'tortured' the Czech defense|
Croatia endured the huge disappointment of relegation last year from Division A of the U20 European Championship but 2012 has turned out to be a very different story.
Not only did the proud basketball nation gain immediate promotion back to the top flight, but Croatia on Sunday captured the title with an 88-80 victory over the Czech Republic.
Domagoj Vukovic poured in a game-high 27 points for Croatia and Henrik Sirko added 26.
Niksa Bavcevic's side was knotted at 40-40 at half-time with the Czechs but seemed to take control with a 15-2 run at the beginning of the third quarter.
They were in front, 70-58, early in the fourth quarter but the Czechs showed tremendous resolve and came back, even taking the lead at 75-74 with 2:41 remaining on a couple of Jaromír Bohacík free-throws.
Bohacík went into the game leading the Czechs in scoring in Sofia at 17.8 points per game.
The Croatians responded in grand style by hitting not one, not two but three shots from long range.
First Franko Sango struck from behind the arc and then Sirko.
Vukovic nailed the third.
The three-balls gave Croatia an 83-75 advantage with a little more than a minute remaining and they stayed on top the rest of the way.
Hosts Bulgaria gained promotion but lost their last two games, including Sunday's bronze-medal clash to a rampant Israel.
Shawn Dawson led a brilliant Israel with 26 points as they blew out the Bulgarians, 101-67.
Israel went on top by as many as 15 points early in the third quarter, only for Bulgaria to come back and trail, 58-53, midway through the frame.
The Sharon Drucker-coached Israelis then turned on the afterburners and went on 32-3 run that sealed victory.
Or Solomon poured in 10 of his 15 points early in that decisive run.
In the battle for fifth place, Poland romped to an 83-53 victory over Great Britain.
Tomasz Gielo had 14 points and 10 rebounds for the Poles.
Belgium won the seventh/eighth place game against Finland, 84-70.
Arne Steinbach scored 22 points for the winners while Alex Murphy had a game-high 29 in defeat.
Portugal finished ninth following a 66-57 victory over Austria, and Denmark came in 11th after an 81-62 victory over the Slovak Republic.
Belarus also played on Sunday and defeated the Netherlands, 64-52, to come in 13th.