WIESBADEN, Germany --- The rubber match is set.
Top seed vs. No. 2 seed. The decider between two girls basketball powerhouses that split their regular season contests. A matchup of teams that have been living in the shadow of schools close to them - Ramstein and Heidelberg - but are finally ready to claim top dog.
Any way you slice it, Saturday’s DODDS-Europe Division-I girls basketball championship between Kaiserslautern and Wiesbaden has the feeling that it’s the matchup that was meant to be.
The two teams first met Feb. 1, where Wiesbaden handed the Raiders their only blemish on the season, 38-34. The rematch occurred on Feb. 12, and it was Kaiserslautern’s turn to exact revenge on the Warriors squad by winning 42-37.
With the title on the line, Saturday’s contest is expected to provide another close match.
“This is going to be an intense match,” said Kaiserslautern senior guard Grace Gonzalez.
Gonzalez, who spent the first two years wearing a Mannheim uniform, has adjusted to the bigger school the past two years and is excited to be playing in her first championship game of her career, fittingly also her last.
Saturday’s D-I girls championship game is scheduled for a 6 p.m. tipoff at the Fitness Center on Wiesbaden, Germany’s Clay Kaserne.
Kaiserslautern 28, Patch 17: The top-seeded Red Raiders were often flustered on offense during their semifinal matchup against the scrappy Panthers. But Kaiserslautern mustered enough energy and points to advance to Saturday’s championship game.
After an underwhelming offensive performance by both squads in the first quarter, where each team managed only two points, things turned around a bit, but baskets weren’t easy to come by all night for either team.
Kaiserslautern’s 6-foot-2 senior Angie Powell denied Patch an inside game most of the night and junior Johanna Quinn provided much of the offense with nine points.
Trailing 16-8 in the third quarter, Patch was able to cut the Red Raiders lead in half. But a clutch three-pointer by Martha Bonilla got the quiet Ktown crowd at Wiesbaden chanting “Let’s go Raiders, Let’s go” and extended the lead again.
Although Patch kept within striking distance, Kaiserslautern’s quick legs, along with a few opportune shots, kept the Panthers at bay.
“We know how bad we wanted this,” said junior guard Alana Dickerson, who chalked up some of the team’s offensive struggles on the night to being overexcited and letting the semifinal atmosphere get to their heads.
Gonzalez also cited how hard her team’s been working for the a chance to play in the championship and wasn’t worried about scoring more points Saturday.
“The harder the team we play is, the better we play,” Gonzalez said.
Patch’s Rebecca Hess led her team’s scoring effort with six.
Wiesbaden 49, Lakenheath 47: A hometown Warrior crowd looking for a reason to erupt finally got one.
Cierra Martin grabbed an offensive rebound and deposited a layup and ensuing free throw with 17.5 seconds to play to give Wiesbaden a dramatic victory in front of an overflowing home-court crowd.
“The crowd gets us really hyped,” Martin said. “We have good fans.”
The Warriors badly needed the boost after the Lancers pierced the gym’s pre-game energy with a dominant 37-point first half. Lakenheath held the lead from the game’s opening moments until Martin finally wrested it back.
“It felt really, really good,” said a beaming Martin, a recent arrival from the state of Washington and now the newest member of Wiesbaden hoops lore.
Martin’s three-point play represented the pinnacle of an intense, chaotic final minute that saw multiple steals exchanged and potential lead-swinging shots roll off the rims. Lakenheath had several shots at a tie in the final seconds, including a pair of ill-fated free throws with three seconds to play.
And with that, the Lancers are left to wonder what might have been.
Lakenheath standout Jourdan Hodge was limited to sporadic minutes by foul trouble and finally took a seat to stay in the midst of Wiesbaden’s second-half rally. The Lancers could manage just 10 second-half points as the Warriors produced matching 15-point third and fourth quarters. Lakenheath coach Anna Archer did her best to put the loss in perspective for her crestfallen team.
“I am absolutely proud of them,” she said. “I’ve already told them they’re my dream team.”
Wiesbaden, after nudging out defending champion Heidelberg in a three-way pool-play tie, looks to complete the transfer of power in Saturday’s championship game.