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Tori Morris of the AFNORTH Lions pushes past Heaven Jackson of the Ansbach Cougars during the DODEA-Europe Division III girls basketball title game in Kaiserslautern, Germany, on Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022.

Tori Morris of the AFNORTH Lions pushes past Heaven Jackson of the Ansbach Cougars during the DODEA-Europe Division III girls basketball title game in Kaiserslautern, Germany, on Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022. (Alexander Riedel/Stars and Stripes)

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany – With a little more than three minutes left in the DODEA-Europe Division III girls’ basketball finals, AFNORTH held a five-point margin.

The Lions looked sluggish early on and struggled to find the net in the first half. So for more than three periods of play, the underdog Ansbach Cougars appeared to have a fighting chance - just three days after a decisive 38-17 loss to AFNORTH in preliminary play.

But just like she did in Friday’s round-robin finale against Baumholder, senior and team captain Tori Morris took over, leading her team to a 33-24 victory and its first European championship since 1987.

The AFNORTH Lions celebrate the first group hug after the final buzzer signaled the end of the DODEA-Europe Division III girls basketball title game in Kaiserslautern, Germany, on Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022.

The AFNORTH Lions celebrate the first group hug after the final buzzer signaled the end of the DODEA-Europe Division III girls basketball title game in Kaiserslautern, Germany, on Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022. (Alexander Riedel/Stars and Stripes)

Following a basket by Ansbach sophomore Kylah Tuazon that narrowed the gap to 29-24 with 3:25 left, Morris answered with a quick layup.

Morris gave the Lions more breathing room with another layup and later had the ball in her hands as the clock expired with people in the crowd chanting “MVP.”

“It’s my last year, so it feels amazing,” she said. “It’s been a long time.”

Ansbach's Heaven Jackson pushes past AFNORTH's Sheckinah Boswell during the DODEA-Europe Division III girls basketball title game in Kaiserslautern, Germany, on Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022.

Ansbach's Heaven Jackson pushes past AFNORTH's Sheckinah Boswell during the DODEA-Europe Division III girls basketball title game in Kaiserslautern, Germany, on Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022. (Alexander Riedel/Stars and Stripes)

Just as the crowd anticipated, Morris was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player for Division III girls.

In the championship game, she put up 21 points to lead all scorers. But it wasn’t her best night on offense as numerous three-point attempts caught air or bounced off the rim, she said, until one finally found the net in the third quarter.

It was the boost of confidence she and her team needed.

AFNORTH's Isabella Guest hustles across the court during the DODEA-Europe Division III girls basketball title game in Kaiserslautern, Germany, on Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022.

AFNORTH's Isabella Guest hustles across the court during the DODEA-Europe Division III girls basketball title game in Kaiserslautern, Germany, on Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022. (Alexander Riedel/Stars and Stripes)

“I just thought, ‘OK, I know how to do this again,’ ” she said. “We all calmed down after that.”

Other scorers for the Lions were Coral Moberg with six points, Paula Bohlen with four and Olivia Morris with two.

At the end of three periods, the Lions held a 27-16 lead with help from the Cougars turning over the ball three times in the quarter’s waning seconds.

Family members cheer on their players during the DODEA-Europe Division III girls basketball title game in Kaiserslautern, Germany, on Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022.

Family members cheer on their players during the DODEA-Europe Division III girls basketball title game in Kaiserslautern, Germany, on Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022. (Alexander Riedel/Stars and Stripes)

Players of the Ansbach Cougars grab a drink of water during the DODEA-Europe Division III girls basketball title game against the Lady Lions of AFNORTH in Kaiserslautern, Germany, on Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022.

Players of the Ansbach Cougars grab a drink of water during the DODEA-Europe Division III girls basketball title game against the Lady Lions of AFNORTH in Kaiserslautern, Germany, on Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022. (Alexander Riedel/Stars and Stripes)

Ansbach outscored the Lions, 8-6 in the fourth period. Senior Melanie Smith scored five of her nine points in the quarter, including a three-pointer.

But the team couldn’t overcome Morris and a series of turnovers and foul trouble.

“Two girls fouled out. That hurt,” Ansbach coach Michael Lee Hunt said.

“With three minutes (to play) we were in the game,” he said. But the Lions “came out and took care of business and we didn’t. They were the better team today.”

Ansbach Cougar’s Coach Michael Lee Hunt instructs his players during a timeout at the DODEA-Europe Division III girls basketball title game against the AFNORTH Lions in Kaiserslautern, Germany, on Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022.

Ansbach Cougar’s Coach Michael Lee Hunt instructs his players during a timeout at the DODEA-Europe Division III girls basketball title game against the AFNORTH Lions in Kaiserslautern, Germany, on Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022. (Alexander Riedel/Stars and Stripes)

The AFNORTH Lions Cheerleaders perform a halftime dance at center court during the DODEA-Europe Division III girls basketball title game in Kaiserslautern, Germany, on Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022.

The AFNORTH Lions Cheerleaders perform a halftime dance at center court during the DODEA-Europe Division III girls basketball title game in Kaiserslautern, Germany, on Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022. (Alexander Riedel/Stars and Stripes)

AFNORTH coach Matt Wise said this year’s team was a special group of athletes.

“I knew they were good, but you never quite know, when COVID cancels a season and nobody’s really played for 18 months, two years,” he said, referring to last year’s season being lost to the pandemic.

“It’s more credit just to their hard work and their work ethic to commit to it and do what it takes to become champions,” he said.

Baumholder won the third-place game 35–9 over Spangdahlem. Eileen Sanders and Isabell Cobb were the top scorers for the Buccaneers with 17 and 12 points, respectively. Miranda Valles, Matelyn Miller and Calea Morton each scored two points for Spangdahlem.

The AFNORTH Lions smile for a group photo on the court after winning against the Ansbach Cougars during the DODEA-Europe Division III girls basketball championship title in Kaiserslautern, Germany, on Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022.

The AFNORTH Lions smile for a group photo on the court after winning against the Ansbach Cougars during the DODEA-Europe Division III girls basketball championship title in Kaiserslautern, Germany, on Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022. (Alexander Riedel/Stars and Stripes)

Ansbach’s Melanie Smith attempts to pass while AFNORTH’s Paula Bohlen plays defense during the DODEA-Europe Division III girls basketball title game in Kaiserslautern, Germany, on Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022.

Ansbach’s Melanie Smith attempts to pass while AFNORTH’s Paula Bohlen plays defense during the DODEA-Europe Division III girls basketball title game in Kaiserslautern, Germany, on Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022. (Alexander Riedel/Stars and Stripes)

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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