Wildcats don’t let another one against Rota slip away
Stars and Stripes February 19, 2023
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — The Naples Wildcats couldn’t forget the score line from last year’s Division II European final against Rota.
How could they when it’s been on written in the locker room all season long?
But after Saturday’s championship game at Ramstein High School, maybe the Wildcats can move on. Naples controlled the rematch with the Admirals, taking a lead at the 2-minute, 42-second mark in the first quarter and never looking back en route to a 46-25 victory.
“Every day that reminded us that we lost last year as part of the motivation to get us ready,” Naples coach Craig Lord said of 2022 final game that featured a near-miraculous rally by Rota in the final minutes. “So every day in practice, we came out with that (in mind).”
Sophomore Patrick Fraim, who was there for last season’s championship loss, expressed his excitement after the game.
“It feels totally amazing, especially since this is my last year at Naples,” Fraim said. “It’s good to end up with a win.”
Fraim played a huge role in Saturday’s win. The 6-foot-1 guard amassed 26 points — with 11 coming in the first quarter — grabbed nine rebounds and collected six steals.
He had to for Naples (13-6), as Rota (13-6) deployed a box-and-1 defense around midway through the first quarter on Cameron Collins. The senior guard had opened with a pair of buckets in the first two minutes as the Wildcats jumped out to an 8-2 lead.
After the Admirals tied the game at 8-8, though, Fraim went to work. He scored Naples’ next seven points, with five coming at the charity stripe and two off a no-look pass from Collins, who finished the game with eight points.
That play was an example of how Lord said the box-and-1 didn’t work against Collins, anyway.
“I think I had more than one player that could attack,” Lord said. “And I don’t know if it slowed Cameron down that much anyway. He still made himself involved in the team.”
On the other side, the Wildcats wreaked havoc on the Admirals. Naples forced Rota into committing 28 turnovers - 15 were steals.
The Wildcats used pressure in the full- and halfcourts, harassing ballhandlers and jumping the passing lanes. For Fraim, it came down to cardio work throughout the season.
“I’ll credit this one to all the conditioning we do in practice,” Fraim said. “It really helps with our press, down the court, all the speed.”
The Admirals’ issues were compounded by foul trouble for the team’s point guard. Hampton Brasfield sat out much of the second quarter after picking up his third foul, and he recorded his fourth foul at the 5:26 mark in the third quarter.
As Naples started to pull away in the third quarter, Rota coach Ben Anderson put Brasfield back onto the floor and 6-3 Panama City, Fla., native helped spark a little run that made it 32-25 with 7:28 left in the game after he finished a drive to the bucket — two of his seven points.
But that was as close as the Admirals got, as Naples proved to be too much. Junior Tyler DeMeritt paced Rota with nine points.
“They rebound, they hit the boards hard, they drive, they play well together,” Anderson said of Naples. “They won the game, and they did a great job. It had nothing to do with us playing bad. No excuses — they were the better team.”
Saturday marked the end of the run for a good chunk of the Wildcats. Seniors including Collins and Chris White (10 points on Saturday) will graduate and players including Fraim will move away.
Their coach said it was nice for the players to end it with a title, but he didn’t need that to think of them as champions.
“They were already champions to me win or lose,” Lord said. “They worked so hard for this, even if they didn’t get it. Getting it, of course that’s nice, and that’s the reward in the sports world.”