It Culminates Tomorrow...
8:15: Beast of Burden (5-6) vs. The Hospital Bombers (6-5), 3rd/4th Place Classification
Though both teams will carry disappointment into tomorrow night's clash, they will also have great motivation. "The Battle For the Upper Tier" is one of the GABL's great traditions, distinguishing the elite from the mere average. One of the league's commonly held supersititions is that the winner of this game is the immediate favorite to win next year's title. In reality, this has only happened 46.8% of the time, but even so, pride is on the line.
Beast of Burden came out on top the last time these teams met, winning a hard-fought 40-35 contest. The Brothers Rodriguez combined for 25 of those points, but their teammates turned in one of their strongest contributing efforts of the season, tallying 15 to make the difference. In Week 3, meanwhile, players not named Rodriguez only mustered 9 points, and Geoff Nelson's hot shooting led The Bombers to a 45-44 win.
On the season, Beast of Burden boasted the second-strongest defense in the league, allowing only 38.7 points per game. They faltered somewhat in their semi-final loss to The Cray's Nest, but they should have a better time against the Bombers, who tend to score at a lower clip and whose offensive output has been severely limited of late. Rafael and Ismael Rodriguez will harass the Bomber guards, who will try to make up in crisp passing what they lack in ballhandling. The Bomber offense will live or die on constant motion, and it's not uncommon for an entire possession to go by in which the ball never touches the floor. If they can effectively overstretch the Beast of Burden rotation, they could see big points down low for Bob Van Kolken and Jake Berkowitz, and open shots for Nelson, Kerry Brown, and Steve Friedman. Nate Purinton, returning after a week off, will also contribute as a slasher, and Jeremy Forsythe's presence on the boards could prove crucial.
Offensively, Beast of Burden have nothing to hide; they depend on the Rodriguez attack, and it's up to the Bombers to stop them. But as in their Week 7 victory, they will need contributions from the likes of Kieran Valla and Brian Love, who can both hit from three when called upon. Underneath, Kyle Pilkington and Pat Waldo may have their hands full with Van Kolken, but if they can grab offensive boards and create second chances, things will progress a lot more smoothly for the BoB scorers. Robin Luna's scrappy defense will, as usual, have to tread a careful line between intensity and over-aggression. If he's not careful, he may find himself in foul trouble, a result his team will find difficult to overcome.
This game is likely to be close throughout. Whether the Rodriguez Brothers can carry their team back to .500, as they've done time and again this season, or the Bombers manage to eke out final victory, we should all expect a classic.
Favorite: Hospital Bombers (-2)
9:15: Layup Line Heroes (8-3) vs. The Cray's Nest (9-2), GABL Championship
The predicted match-up has come to pass, and anticipation has reached a fever pitch among GABL fans. And although many saw this confrontation coming, few can guess how it will end. Previous match-ups are little help; in Week 2, a 14-point Cray's Nest win, the Heroes hadn't yet acquired star guard Saulo Feliciano, while in Week 7, an 11-point Heroes win, TCN guard Shane Ryan had just returned from a sprained ankle and didn't have his full mobility. But though the outcome is in doubt, it can't be denied that the Heroes come in as the favorite. A 6-game winning streak has impressed even the most ardent doubters, and the 1-2 punch of Feliciano and Keith Gormley has yet to be stopped in league play.
In 5 regular season games, Feliciano averaged 13.2 points, and that total improved to 20 in last week's semi-final win. Gormly, a first team All-Star, was second in league scoring with 14.9 points per outing. Together, they form the honed point of the Heroes' attack, but they are far from the only weapons. Matt Brinkmann, Gormley's partner in the post, has helped the Heroes win the battle of the post in nearly ever contest. Last week was no exception, when his fierce play finally drove the Bombers from the lane. He's never seen a board he doesn't like. Greg Wyrick will return from last week's absence to provide yet another effective post threat, while Colby Hall averages 9 per game from a 3-guard position. The Steves, Krakauer and Reiter, provide solid guard presences, and their stability will be crucial to take some pressure off Feliciano.
Contending with the redoubtable interior of the Heroes will be Lars Rasmussen and Vance Tucker, All-Stars both. Rasmussen, considered one of the toughest players in the league, will not be cowed by the opposition's height, and Tucker has a history of containing Gormley, a feat he accomplished in Week 2. On the perimeter, the extened 3-2 zone will have to work overtime to limit Feliciano, and that responsibility falls largely on the shoulders of Ryan. He'll give up quickness, but that was true against Rafael Rodriguez in the semi-final, and his teammates picked up the slack on the wings to limit the damage. Jordan Glickson, Gene Walsh, and Jane Rizzo will fill those wing slots. Glickson in particular had a strong defensive effort againt Best of Burden, and Walsh is adept at leading fast breaks on changes of possession. Rizzo is scrappy, and deceptively quick; it will not be easy to drive on her side. Jacob Craycroft will have to wear many suits come Thursday; he'll be needed desperately on the boards, but will have to play a strong wing as well.
On offense, The Cray's Nest have the unenviable task of establishing an inside game. Tucker and Rasmussen are more than capable of scoring, but in Week 7 the guards had a tough time entering the ball inside. Feliciano's staunch, springy defense played a large role, as did Gormley's ability to assert himself at the top of the key, relying on Wyrick and Brinkmann below. Ryan could not connect from 3 in that game, and if The Cray's Nest has any hope of emerging victorious, that will have to change. It will also be incumbent on him to drive past the front of the zone and hope to draw defenders away from the big men. A repeat of Craycroft's 11-point performance from the semi-finals would also go a long way, as would the usual contributions from Walsh and Glickson. The latter has made a reputation for himself as a man to be counted on when the chips are down, and those nerves of steel could well be called upon in the jittery end stretches of the championship.
The Heroes will be running their usual zone, a 2-1-2 masquerading as a 3-2. It has served them well, and generally allows them to own the boards. Good thing, as rebounds may prove to be the most crucial factor. Unless a majority of shots are falling, an unlikely scenario since both have been stellar defensively in the season's second half, second chances will decide the game. If The Cray's Nest can carve their own space on the glass, they will be much better suited to make a run at the title. If they fail, another easy win will be in store for the Heroes.
One thing is guaranteed: neither team will lack for effort. The Cray's Nest have the league's best chemistry, and it has carried them through several close contests. The irrepressible will of the Heroes, meanwhile, has overrun any rumblings of discontent, and their killer instinct comes with sharpened teeth. It's a match-up truly fit for a championship, and the victor will deserve the spoils.
Favorite: Layup Line Heroes (-3)