By Scott Prater
Jerome Wesley, Maurice Gale and the veteran basketball players for 11th Space Warning Squadron finally finished a championship season Feb. 5 at the Fitness Center here. After coming close to a basketball title in at least two previous seasons, it was 11 SWS players who posed with the championship trophy and slipped on the winner’s commemorative T-shirts.
Thanks to a second-half scoring outburst and some stifling defensive play, 11 SWS claimed the Schriever Intramural Basketball title with a 46-37 win over playoff-tournament-top-seed 50th Operations Group Standardization and Evaluation Division.
“We’ve been in this position before,” said Wesley, the 11 SWS team captain. “But, we’ve never been able to come away with the trophy.”
Take last year for example. The 11 SWS team entered the playoffs as the top seed after finishing the regular season with the league’s best record. But, the team didn’t even make it to the title game after falling in the second round.
Same story the year before that.
“It seems like we’ve always had the best record during the regular season, but fall short in the playoffs,” Wesley said. “This year we didn’t have the best record, but we felt like we had the best team, and we knew we had a great opportunity to come away with a championship if we stayed focused and disciplined.”
Unlike their opponents, 50 OGV’s players weren’t accustomed to playing in anything resembling a title game.
“This is my third season with OGV,” said guard Matt Pincus, who scored 11 points to lead his team. “This is the first time we’ve even had a winning season. In the past, we’ve had four guys show up and maybe got a fifth at halftime, but this year we just had a bunch of guys who wanted to play.”
Pincus and company (50 OGV) entered the title game with only one loss, thanks largely to its guard play, and its up-tempo style. Pincus and Chris Dempsey continuously pushed the game pace and 50 OGV relied on its defense to create turnovers.
From there, many games simply turned into lopsided victories.
The problem for 50 OGV in the title game, however, was… its defense had to account for three pure scorers in Gale, Jacob Burtschi and Joe Johnson. Gale fired from the perimeter, Johnson provided the imposing figure in the low post and Burtschi flew around the court inflicting mayhem and chaos on his opponents.
Pincus created opportunities for himself and 50 OGV by driving to the basket, and Dempsey hit a couple of big baskets as well, but Forrest Poole kept the game tight with a superior performance on the boards in the first half.
11 SWS led by two points at intermission, but that’s as close as 50 OGV could get.
“I think the key to the game was our defense,” Gale said. “The guys came ready to play and whenever they (50 OGV) made a run, we locked up on defense and made a run of our own.”
The tournament’s top-seeded team couldn’t account for Burtschi, who sunk two 3-pointers and scored 12 of his game-high 18 points in the second half as 11 SWS pulled away.
“I think one key for us this year was that we lost some games during the regular season and we had to deal with that adversity,” Gale said. “So whenever a team would make their run, we stayed composed because we had been there before. We knew our opponents were going to make a run today, so we stayed composed and kept playing our game.”
Leading by 10 points with four minutes to play, 11 SWS opted to spread the floor and use the clock, which effectively stifled any chance 50 OGV had of making a closing run.
“They ran the clock down real well,” said 50 OGV guard Brad Shirley. “They played a great game and we can’t take anything away from them. It’s just great to be able to come out and have rivalries and stiff competition with the guys in next office. That’s the great thing about intramural sports.”