RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany - On paper this season, a basketball doubleheader between Lakenheath and Ramstein should be one of DODDS-Europe's finest matchups.
On the Ramstein court Friday, that's exactly what the four teams delivered.
The Lancers and Royals played up to their Division I pedigrees in a pair of hard-fought games between projected European title contenders. Fittingly, the night ended in a draw, with the Lakenheath girls enjoying a comeback 51-43 win and the Ramstein boys holding on for a 51-45 home victory.
Girls: An overwhelming second-half onslaught handed the Royals their first loss of the season and gave the Lancers proof of the program's progress.
"I've been playing at Lakenheath since freshman year, and we've never beaten Ramstein," said junior Kristen Reed, who produced a sparkling stat line of 12 points, eight rebounds, six steals and four assists. "So to me, that's kind of a big deal that we finally beat them."
Ramstein's 29-21 halftime lead dissolved quickly as Lakenheath sprung from the locker room with renewed pep and purpose. The crisp Lancers offense hung 30 points on the Royals in the second half, while the defense limited Ramstein to seven points in each of the third and fourth quarters.
The turnaround stemmed from a motivational halftime speech.
"When I went in to talk to them, I just said I needed their passion to come out," Lancers head coach Anna Archer said.
That it did, as the Lancers shocked the Royals with a lead-seizing 12-2 run to open the second half.
Junior Jourdan Hodge, a returning All-Europe selection, closed the deal with a brilliant stretch run. A blocked shot on one end flowed into a soft turnaround jumper at the other, giving Lakenheath a 43-40 lead with three minutes and 15 seconds to play. An acrobatic fast-break layup and a post-up bank shot accounted for four more of Hodge's game-high 19 points over the next 90 seconds, setting a multiple-possession lead in stone for Lakenheath.
The Lancers pride themselves on setting Hodge's dominance in the context of a larger team structure.
"With our team and how we work together, it's not just one player," Archer said. "There's five out on the court, there's four on the bench, we all work together."
The win left Lakenheath (6-1) with bragging rights over Ramstein (3-1) in a matchup of teams that should be major players at the upcoming DODDS-Europe Division I tournament.
The game was not without encouraging signs for Ramstein. The promising freshman backcourt of Breanna Martinez and Desiree Palacios scored 12 and 10 points, respectively, against one of the more rigid defenses they've encountered in their young careers.
Boys: The host Royals avoided a demoralizing sweep with the most accomplished performance of the young season, outlasting the previously undefeated Lancers and renewing hopes of a Division I postseason run.
Ramstein head coach Len Tarnowski got a look at Lakenheath when both teams participated in the unofficial Stuttgart Winter Basketball Tournament in late December. The game plan he devised to counter Lakenheath's dangerous guards and rugged forwards required his team to expand their defensive range. He was proud of the team's execution Friday.
"The guys came through. They had to do things that they weren't comfortable doing," he said. "They had to move a little bit and play some different positions, but they came through."
Tarnowski has spent the season’s first four games experimenting with a deep and versatile roster, fielding a variety of starting fives and crunch-time lineups. On Friday, the first game back from the long holiday break, he made a startling late-game discovery in 6-foot-3 forward Jesse Gray.
The sophomore showed big-man mettle in the second half to help build and protect the Royals’ lead. Gray scored all of his team-high 14 points after halftime and converted three tough catch-and-finish opportunities at the rim in the game's final minutes.
"I didn't know what to expect. When I was out there, I just tried to hustle," said Gray, a varsity novice after spending his freshman year on the school's junior varsity squad. "I just tried my best to make the most of my time."
Gray was Ramstein's lone double-digit scorer; five teammates scored between five and nine points. CJ Jackson scored 19 points, including five three-pointers, to pace the Lancers.
Lakenheath moves on to Wiesbaden for girls and boys games Saturday.