WIESBADEN, Germany – The landscape of DODDS-Europe Division I boys basketball is rapidly changing.
For years, Ramstein and Heidelberg have dominated the large-school scene. The Royals and Lions have played each other in the Division I championship game each year since 2007.
That will change in 2013.
Thursday’s opening pool-play slate of the DODDS-Europe Division I boys basketball tournament saw defending champion Heidelberg mathematically eliminated and 2012 runner-up Ramstein fall to rising power Patch.
The Panthers and host Wiesbaden were the only teams to survive the scrum with perfect 2-0 records. Two from a group of Kaiserslautern, Lakenheath, Ramstein and ISB will join them in Friday evening’s semifinals.
Wiesbaden 63, Kaiserslautern 45: The Red Raiders hardly had time to high-five before another Warrior basket found the net.
Down 12-0 halfway through a disastrous first quarter, Kaiserslautern answered a Darren Williams three-pointer with its first points on a Tyrone Hendrix driving layup. But any confidence gained was immediately lost in transition as Kelsey Thomas took a sharp pass on the wing and knocked in another Wiesbaden long ball.
That early cushion proved sturdy enough to last for the duration, and even to offer the Warrior starters a comfortable sideline siesta for much of the second half.
Thomas finished with 27 points to lead all scorers.
Wiesbaden 43, Lakenheath 32: The Warriors reasserted their first-day dominance with a thrashing of the second-seeded Lancers.
Thomas scored 15 to pace a cool and collected Wiesbaden team playing with a winning balance of big-picture confidence and detail-oriented focus.
“We were pretty confident,” Thomas said. “We just had to stay humble and make sure we came in and play defense.”
The Warriors clinched a trip to Friday night’s semifinals with the two victories. True to the Warriors’ ethos, Wiesbaden head coach Carl Johnson said the team is “very fortunate” to have traversed a challenging first-day schedule.
Patch 52, Ramstein 49: The final game of Thursday’s Division I boys schedule turned out to be a worthy main event.
The top-seeded Panthers and No. 4 Royals played to a standstill from start to finish, with neither side taking more than the six-point lead Ramstein seized late in the third quarter. Patch responded to cut the lead to 33-31 entering the fourth quarter, and soon after owned its own four-point advantage.
Ultimately, the game was decided by a pair of layups from the unexpected hand of Patch sophomore guard CeJay Ferguson. The first pushed the Panthers up a point with a minute to play, the second extended the lead. Ferguson added two free throws with 20 seconds left to push the lead to five.
Patch forward William Stinson hit two more free throws to ice the win.
Panther guard John Robinson scored 22 points to lead all scorers.
Ramstein 51, ISB 25: The Raiders arrived in Wiesbaden shrouded in mystery as the only non-Germany member of the rugged eight-team Division I field.
It was a mystery the Royals quickly solved.
Ramstein tilted the battle of fourth- and fifth-seeded teams lopsided, feeling out the unfamiliar opponent for a quarter or so and then mercilessly exploiting the weaknesses discovered.
The Royals are eying a return to the European championship game despite a largely new cast of contributors. Ramstein is the runner-up two years running after winning titles in 2009 and 2010.
Patch 51, Heidelberg 42: The nominal mismatch of the day turned out to be among its most competitive games.
The top-seeded Panthers endured a stiff test from the determined defending Division I champions. Its talent base eroded by the school’s drawdown towards closure at the end of the year, the remaining Lions battled admirably against the division’s new frontrunner.
“We decided to concentrate on the positives, have a little fun,” Heidelberg head coach Justin Bates said. “I just wanted to come in and give this tournament a black eye, and punch a hole in it.”
But no amount of Lion heart could stop the ascent of a Patch team that displayed its own brand of perseverance.
The Lions hovered within 10 points for much of the game before mounting a final offensive. Jason Caldwell scored 13 of his team-high 15 in the fourth quarter to push the issue. Joseph Patrick nailed a corner three-pointer – dramatically, with the house lights temporarily and inexplicably shut off – to pull the Lions within three with 46 seconds to play.
The Panthers withstood the assault with a series of free throws from Robinson and a forced jump ball that swung a key Heidelberg possession to Patch.
Brendan Jones scored a game-high 19 for Patch.
ISB 28, Heidelberg 18: Its best effort spent, the Lions struggled to score in a demoralizing second loss of the day.
Heidelberg will play the last game of its storied boys hoops history Friday in one final showdown against archrival Ramstein.
The Raiders can take a shot at extending their season Friday against top seed Patch.
Lakenheath 44, Vilseck 41: The resurgent Falcons fell agonizingly short of an upset over the second-seeded Lancers.
Vilseck, a strong No. 7 seed that found its rhythm down the February regular-season stretch, forced a series of turnovers in the game’s final minutes but couldn’t convert the opportunities into the necessary points.
A.J. Ransom scored 14 points and Nick Winkie 12 to pace the Lancers.
Kaiserslautern 69, Vilseck 58: The sixth-seeded Red Raiders stayed mathematically viable with a rout of the faltering Falcons.
Vilseck couldn’t piece together a repeat of its earlier effort against Lakenheath, and as such enters Friday with an 0-2 mark and a forbidding appointment with the Warriors.
Kaiserslautern and Lakenheath play Friday afternoon in a poool game that serves as an elimination game; the winner advances to Friday evening’s semifinals.