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Coach Dan Shamir moved one step closer to winning his third State Cup title yesterday as Bnei Hasharon downed Ashkelon 69-61 to move into Thursday's final. Bnei Hasharon will meet Maccabi Tel Aviv, which blew out a poor-shooting Barak Netanya. Shamir won his first two with Hapoel Jerusalem.

Bnei Hasharon's smothering defense kept Ashkelon to 1-of-17 shooting from beyond the arc as the favorites took the lead seven minutes into the contest and never relinquished it. "Bnei Hasharon slowed down the pace the whole game, and that worked for them," said Ashkelon coach Ariel Bet Halahmi.

Shamir got the most out of Sam Clancey, who had averaged only five points a game over the previous two months but racked up 20 last night.

Another key player was Ron Steele, who came in with Bnei Hasharon trailing 12-9 to replace Cookie Belcher, who had just committed his second foul. The guard scored 13 points in less than two quarters before Bet Halahmi matched him up with Dror Davidi. "We won thanks to playing tough defense," said Steele.

Bnei Hasharon twice built the lead up to 13 points, but its 20 turnovers allowed Ashkelon to stay in the game. Ashkelon's Brian Talbert, who was benched earlier because he couldn't buy a basket, came in with three minutes to go and quickly tallied nine points to pull within three.

However, veteran captain Erez Katz made a crucial steal off Ashkelon's Moran Rot and banked in a three to put Bnei Hasharon up 65-59 with a minute to go, and the celebrations soon followed.

Meanwhile, Barak Netanya gave Maccabi Tel Aviv little trouble as the league titans whipped the visitors 81-65. for a chance to win its first State Cup title since 2006.

Maccabi didn't look its sharpest in the early going, but Netanya needed to be at the top of its game and clearly wasn't. No team can expect to go into Nokia, shoot under 30 percent from the field, and expect to win. Netanya was no exception. Robert Rothbart was the lone bright spot with 18 points.

Netanya trailed by four as late as the 8:16 mark in the third quarter, but Maccabi closed out the period with a 19-7 run to make it 56-40 and put on a show in the final quarter.

Andrew Wisniewski led Maccabi with 15 points.