5th/6th Classification: Team Fouls 37, Dunk-a Schoen 31
It's always been a GABL proverb that beating the same team three times in a single season is incredibly difficult, and these words of wisdom held up in Thursday's early game. Team Fouls, in last place at season's end by point differential, put together their best game of the season to post a narrow victory, 37-31. Andrew Weiner led the way with 13 points, including 4 of his trademark threes. Chris Bonastia had a strong second half as well, hitting all 4 of his foul shots and playing tough defense up front with Kyle Ervin. But it was Zach Smith's clutch three pointer from the wing that sealed the deal and put Team Fouls ahead to stay.
For Dunk-a Schoen, Whitney Warren and Ben Wietmarschen tallied 12 and 10, respectivey. Despite their height advantage, they could not achieve any more than a draw on the boards, and were forced to play Team Fouls' high-flying, long range style. It was a game they were content to play far too often this year, and it backfired once more. Toward the end of regulation, the team was heartily jeered by their own fans, many of whom held up signs reading "Achtung: Scheisse!," a German phrase meaning "Warning: Shit!" It was an oblique reference, of course, to their team name. Another memorable sign read "Dunk-a Schoen: Zero Dunks, Lotsa Shame." It will take quite an effort to win back these usually rabid supporters, an uphill battle made all the more difficult now that the team is relegated to the Coney Island Men's Rec League, where they must earn their way back into the GABL with a top finish next year.
Team Fouls finishes 5th and avoids relegation. After the game, good friends Andrew Weiner and Zach Smith were all smiles. "This one is for the little guy," said Smith. "For everyone who never thought they'd make it to the big time." Weiner echoed his sentiments. "This is the happiest I've ever been," he said. "And probably the happiest I ever will be."
Semi-Final #1: The Cray's Nest 45, Beast of Burden 27
When Shane Ryan hit two technical free throws for The Cray's Nest near the end of the second half, it tied the game at 14. From that point on, the regular season champions coasted, ending on a 31-13 run to reach the GABL championship. It will be the team's first time in the title game, but first team All-Star Lars Rasmussen was not content with merely making it this far. "We set out to win a regular season title, and we did that," he said. "Then we set out to win the championship, and we intend to do that too. Nothing is finished."
It was Rasmussen's brilliant stretch in the second half that ended Beast of Burden's hopes for good. On three straight possessions, TCN ran isolation plays for him in order to take advantage of their opponent's scrappy man-to-man. From the right side, Rasmussen scored 7 unanswered points, and when the dust had settled, the lead was up to 15. It seemed to break the spirits of Beast of Burden, who will try to salvage their season with a strong showing in the 3rd and 4th place classification game.
The Cray's Nest employed largely the same strategy they used to defeat Beast of Burden in Week 9. With an aggressive, extended 3-2 zone, they tried to box in the Rodriguez brothers, Rafael and Ismael. Rafael, the league MVP, had some success penetrating in the second half, and Ismael hit a pair of huge 3s in the first half, but each could only manage 10 points. The difference between Thursday night's blowout and the tight week 9 game was that Beast of Burden couldn't find a scoring punch anywhere else. Kyle Pilkington scored 4 pionts down low, and Kieran Valla hit a three in the second half, but that all they could muster against the fierce Cray's Nest Defense.
Another huge difference on Thursday was the offensive contribution of Jacob Craycroft, who scored a season-high 11 points, including 9 in the second half. It was his best shooting performance of the season, and it couldn't have come at a better time. "I'll admit it, the basket looked pretty big out there today," said an elated Craycroft after the game. "I felt like a free man." Then his eyes began to water, and he ended the interview prematurely.
Vance Tucker, a second team All-Star, added 4 points and a strong performance on the boards. Ryan scored 5, and wowed the spectators with a late full court behind-the-back pass, while Jordan Glickson added 4, Gene Walsh 3, and Jane Rizzo 2 to round out the Cray's Nest attack.
Semi-Final #2: Layup Line Heroes 47, The Hospital Bombers 37
The Heroes' spectactular run continued Thursday with an impressive win against a determinded Bomber side. As they've done all year, the victors slowly evicted their opponents from the paint; by the second half, they controlled the boards entirely. Their tight zone defense allowed no penetration, and eventually the Bombers had to rely on three-point shooting to mount a comeback. They came as close as six with minutes to play, but the strategy was ultimately doomed, and the Heroes posted their sixth straight win.
Saulo Feliciano led all scorers with 20 points, 18 of which came in the secnod half. He also added to his foul-shooting legend with an impressive 8-for-9 performance. He and center Keith Gormley accounted for 32 of the teams's 47 points, and nearly outscored the Bombers by themselves. Those two, along with Matt Brinkmann, were also primarily responsible for the brutal interior play that utterly cowed the opposition. It is a style best described as 'war of attrition,' where each enemy into the lane is punished in an effort to reduce all future campaigns. Even when an inside basket is scored, it's all too often a Pyrrhic victory, unlikely to be repeated. Some experts thought the Bombers would be well-suited to wage this type of battle, but within minutes it became clear that Bob VanKolken was the only player with the fortitude to brave the interior, and alone his accomplishments were minimal. By the second half, even he was reluctant to advance too deep into the Heroes' defensive territory.
Steve Friedman led the second half charge for the Bombers, scoring 12 points on a series of jump shots. VanKolken added 9, but only 3 in the second half, while first team All-Star Geoff Nelson could never find his shot, scoring only 2 for the game. Kerry Brown hit a pair of three pointers, but was otherwise a surprising non-factor, while Avi Kent had 6 second-half points to keep things close, and Jake Berkowitz added 2. "It wasn't our day," said a disappointed Nelson. "Those f*s are tough."
Colby Hall scored 7 for the Heroes, while Brinkmann had 6, and Steve Reiter 2. Gormley, always soft-spoken, would not offer a prediction for the title game. "We only have to succeed in our own hearts," he told reporters. Brinkmann was less diplomatic. "They'll be treated to hardship," he said. "Strife and Heroes are 6-letter words."