Friday, April 23, 2010

Recaps, Championship Night!

The dust has finally settled on 293 East Broadway, the Henrietta Szold school. Every door has been locked and boarded. The bulldozers can finally make their fateful way to the red brick facade, and the wrecking balls can begin their slow, pendulous attack. But before the sun set on PS 134, a final night of glory played out; a rugged evening with nothing less than ultimate victory at stake.

3rd/4th Classification: Beast of Burden 49, The Hospital Bombers 33

In a game that was never truly in doubt, the Brothers Rodriguez led Beast of Burden to their strongest effort of the year and a 3rd place finish in the GABL. Combining for 38 points, the league's highest-scoring duo did not disappoint their fans in the consolation match.

Rafael Rodriguez got things off to a scintillating start with 3 three-pointers and 13 points in the first half alone. His aggressive style paid dividends against an unprepared Bomber team. When they did manage to contain him, Ismael Rodriguez filled the void, scoring 13 first half points of his own, including 3 from deep. But the brothers couldn't win the game on their own, and strong supporting performances from Kyle Pilkington (4 points), Pat Waldo (2), and Robin Luna (5). Pilkington and Waldo were particularly strong on the boards, while Luna's hard-nosed, high-intensity defense led to a string of crucial steals.

The Bombers were not without life. It wouldn't be a pressure game without a strong performance from Nate Purinton, and he lived up to expectations with a season-high 14 points. His two three pointers served as mini-sparks that could never quite ignite a rally, but had the fans and his teammates in a frenzy nonetheless. Jake Berkowitz had 7 points, including a big second half three of his own, and Bob Van Kolken scored 6 in another workmanlike performance underneath. Geoff Nelson tallied 4, but could never quite find his touch from long range, while replacement players Kyle Ervin and Noah Davis combined for two points.

But the story of the game was Beast of Burden's prideful team play. They turned in their most complete performance of the season and won the Battle for the Upper Tier going away. They finish their roller coaster season in third place, entrenched with the league's elite. The dynamic play of the Rodriguez brothers defined their fortunes in the GABL, and on Thursday they went out on the highest of high notes.

GABL Championship: Layup Line Heroes 45, The Cray's Nest 35

It was always going to be a difficult task for The Cray's Nest to take down the mighty Heroes, who came into Thursday's championship on a 6-game winning streak, but they certainly got started the right way. Hot shooting by Shane Ryan and Vance Tucker led the underdogs to a significant early lead, and for a few pregnant moments, the impossible suddenly started to seem likely.

Coming off the bench, Ryan gave The Cray's Nest their first lead with a three from the top of the key. Tucker followed this with 4 points of his own, and the team's 3-2 zone turned out to be surprisingly effective. Tucker and fellow All-Star Lars Rasmussen handled business efficiently in the paint, making every Heroes shot a difficult enterprise. On the perimeter, stand-out point guard Saulo Feliciano couldn't penetrate, and the staunch Cray's Nest defense took away the high post attack.

Offensively, TCN couldn't miss. Jordan Glickson nailed a foul line jumper, Ryan hit another three, Rasmussen scored down low, Jacob Craycroft connected on a foul shot, Tucker hit another ten-foot jumper, Ryan came away with a steal and a fast-break layup, and Rasmuseen hit one of two technical free throws.

It was a dream beginning for the regular season champions, and if not for the efforts of Keith Gormley and Amy Hauck, it could have become an unmitigated disaster for the Heroes. Gormley connected on two field goals, and hit all 4 of his foul shots, to keep his team in the game, while Hauck nailed two crucial bank-shots from the left wing. Aside from that duo, the Heroes only managed four points in the entire half (2 by Matt Brinkmann, and 2 by Feliciano).

With the score 20-12 in favor of The Cray's Nest, and only minutes left in the half, Vance Tucker stepped to the line with a chance to give his team a double digit lead. But both shots missed their mark, and a subtle alteration in the air currents, or something equally mystic and nebulous, began writing a new destiny for the warring teams. Because at that juncture, the momentum underwent a dramatic shift. The Heroes scored 4 points to close out the half, and pulled to within 20-16 when the buzzer sounded.

When the second stanza began, the Heroes completely regained their old form, and the blitzkrieg was on. Feliciano and Gormley scored early buckets, Matt Brinkmann hit a three, Colby Hall followed suit, and Steve Reiter got in on the action with a deuce of his own. Meanwhile, The Cray's Nest went cold in a hurry. Their offense went fallow, and for the first six minutes of the half, they couldn't so much as sniff the basket.

By the time Lars Rasmussen hit a foul line jumper to stem the tide, the score was 27-22. The utter reversal was accomplished by a 15-0 Heroes run, and the 20-12 lead The Cray's Nest once enjoyed was ancient history. From that point forward, the teams would play even, and the Heroes smartly waged their typical war of attrition, controlling the paint and the boards and making it extremely difficult for their opponent to notch an easy bucket. Ryan and Tucker continued their attempts to penetrate the zone, but they were continually met by an unending series of big bodies, as if stuck in a Herculean myth, facing progressively fierce beasts.

The Cray's Nest managed to keep it somewhat close, even getting within 5 at one point. Ryan hit two big three pointers, and Rasmussen scored twice on the interior, but otherwise the situation had deteriorated completely. Their shots were not falling, and it soon became evident that inside scoring was not an option. The chances they did create were often not capitalized upon; Ryan, normally an 80% free throw shooter, missed 1 of 4 in the second half, and also blew an open lay-up. Tucker and Rasmussen had trouble connecting when they managed to create space on the inside, and aside from Ryan's two threes, no perimeter shots were falling, regardless of the shooter.

For the Heroes, the second half belonged to Matt Brinkmann. Whenever the difference came down to 5 or 6 points, he seemed to step up with a huge basket that widened the margin back to a comfortable distance. He scored 12 of his 14 points after the intermission, including a season-high 3 from downtown (previously, he'd hit 2 three pointers all year, and came in averaging 4.5 points per game). The Cray's Nest was totally unprepared for this scoring threat, and continued to leave him open from deep, hoping the averages would correct themselves. They never did. Gormley hit two big jumpers, Hall added a pair, and Saulo Feliciano, having difficulty scoring at his usual clip, shifted into passing mode in the second half. The point guard only managed 7 points, but his quickness, defense, rebounding, and passing acumen were indispensable for the Heroes.

As Brinkmann, Feliciano, and Gormley kept the points coming, The Cray's Nest offensive well had dried up completely. With two minutes left, they were forced to resort to fouling, and Brinkmann made them pay by hitting 3 of 4. For the game, the Heroes nailed 8 of 10 from the line, while The Cray's Nest, best in the league during the regular season, hit only 3 of 10.

Ryan led all scorers with 15 points, while Tucker had 8 and Rasmussen 7 for The Cray's Nest. Jordan Glickson finished with 4, and Jacob Craycroft rounded out the scoring with 1 point. For the Heroes, Brinkmann finished with 14 and Gormley 12. Feliciano and Hall added 7 apiece, while Hauck had 4 and Reiter 2.

Things got chippy near the end, but tempers cooled as the outcome became clear, and the deserving victors dribbled the clock out to great fanfare. The jubilant team hoisted the Wooden Gavel, and Keith Gormley won the Eager Cager Award as the championship game MVP. That particular honor could easily have gone to Brinkmann or Feliciano as well, and the Heroes went off into the night having won the title with a true team effort. And so a valiant season came to a close.

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