By Scott Prater
Nineteen seconds. That’s what 50th Comptroller Squadron/Force Support Squadron’s intramural basketball season had boiled down to March 21.
Led by team captain Aaron Kirchoff, CPTS/FSS entered the championship game undefeated in all 17 games it had played this season. No opponent had taken a second-half lead against them — until March 21, when 1st Space Operations Squadron not only kept pace, but successfully forced CPTS/FSS out of its up-tempo style of play.
Forty minutes wasn’t enough time for the two squads to settle matters, as regulation ended with the score tied at 43.
After more than four minutes of overtime and with CPTS/FSS holding a 49-48 edge, 1 SOPS captain Rickie Banister called for a time out to discuss strategy.
Following the break, 1 SOPS had possession and 19 ticks of the clock to put up the game’s final shot. But thanks to some intense defensive pressure and a good bit of confusion in the final hectic moments, that shot never came.
When the final buzzer sounded the scoreboard still read CPTS/FSS 49, 1 SOPS 48.
“All you can ask for is the chance to win,” Banister said. “We had our chance and it just didn’t work out for us. This was the game of the year. Of course, it was the championship matchup, but it was also the most competitive.”
Both teams started in their familiar style: CPTS/FSS played fast and looked for opportunities to push the pace, while 1 SOPS relied its perimeter shooters to keep the game tight. Cody Marion led the CPTS effort early, sinking a pair of 3-pointers from the top of the key. For 1 SOPS, it was Robb Owens and Willie Jenkins, who drilled long-range bombs from behind the arc.
When Matt Pincus stopped and popped a short jump shot from the left wing midway through the first half, CPTS/FSS led 13-7, but Jenkins followed with a 3-pointer on 1 SOPS’ next possession and Owens hit another one less than a minute later.
“We kept having to claw our way back in,” Banister said. “They’re a good team. They hit shots when they needed to and they played tough defense.”
Superior depth played a key role for CPTS/FSS as well. Kirchoff listed 13 players in the scorebook and six logged points in the first half. When Kelly McCarty followed his own shot and put a rebound back in, CPT/FSS led 23-18. But as they would continue to do for the entire contest, 1 SOPS had an answer. Thanks to Wade McGrew’s fast-break bucket and a 3-pointer from Bannister, 1 SOPS tied the game at 25 just before halftime.
Kirchoff noticed 1 SOPS’ counter-punching ability and urged his teammates to respond.
“We wanted to come out in the second half and prove a point,” he said. “We wanted to start the second the way we should have started the first.”
Kirchoff promptly opened the second half with a steal and a layup. Cody Marion followed by snaring a loose ball and driving for another layup. Karl Seppa then jumped into the mix with rebound and putback, and Florian Litim hit a turnaround jumper as CPTS/FSS opened on an 8-0 run.
Meanwhile, its defense held 1 SOPS scoreless for eight long minutes.
“We did something that was uncharacteristic of us,” Banister said. “I don’t know if it was the fans or the situation that got to us, but we needed to settle down. Once we did, I think things flowed a little better for us.”
McGrew sparked the 1 SOPS rally by driving hard to the basket. He sank the subsequent free throws then dished to Owens for a score on the team’s next possession. Jenkins drained a 3-pointer a couple minutes later and Owens followed with his third 3-pointer of the game to bring 1 SOPS even again with less than three minutes to play.
The teams traded baskets for the final few minutes and Jenkins actually drove in for a layup as the buzzer sounded at the end of regulation, but game officials ruled time had expired before the ball left his hand.
“The officials had a tough job during this game,” Banister said. “They had a lot of intense emotions to deal with and they did a great job controlling the game.”
Seppa and Kelly McCarty controlled the low-post area for CPTS/FSS during the overtime period, getting a couple of easy post-up scores, and Litim ultimately hit the game-winning basket when he drove and spun past two defenders for a layup in the final minute.
“I told the guys that this whole season comes down to these next few minutes,” Kirchoff said. “Being undefeated in the regular season means absolutely nothing if you lose the championship. I don’t think anybody was scared going into overtime. We were all confident.”