Hopes brightened, dimmed for title contenders
Stars and Stripes February 15, 2023
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany – The crowds inside Southside Fitness Center were treated to a series of intriguing matchups late afternoon and early evening on Wednesday.
The first day of the Division II DODEA European Basketball Championships saw two boys teams get victories over title rivals, while the top seed in the girls tournament recovered without its coach to pass its biggest test during pool play.
In the end, three teams punched their tickets to the semifinals: Vicenza and American Overseas School of Rome on the girls side and Rota on the boys side.
Rota 36, Naples 35: The Admirals’ Anthony Ross wasn’t having a game to remember in Rota’s second game of the day against the Wildcats.
The 6-foot-3 junior guard hadn’t scored a single point, yet Ross had the ball in the closing seconds with the Admirals trailing by two. He sought a teammate to pass to when a shooting lane opened up on the left side of the arc.
Ross decided to let it fly, and he hit the shot, creating the final tally with 12 seconds remaining.
“I was off the whole game, so I wanted my teammates to score,” Ross said. “I had a rush, saw an opening and I just shot it.
“I was relieved. That’s a really good team.”
Rota (10-3) trailed for most of the game, which was shortened by Naples (9-6) in the first half. The Admirals didn’t leave their zone defense inside the arc, allowing the Wildcats to hold the ball near the halfway line for minutes at a time.
Naples took a 16-10 advantage into the break.
Aviano 53, AOSR 49: The Saints dropped both of their regular-season contests with the Falcons, but on Wednesday, they got the last laugh.
The win put the Saints (13-3) in the driver’s seat to advance to a semifinal, needing just a win over Black Forest Academy to advance in the pool’s top spot.
“This is when it really counts,” Aviano coach Keith Adams said. “I told the boys before we came out, everybody’s at zero, and there’s a lot of teams with a chance to win the title. If we match their intensity, we’ll be fine.”
The Saints led by as many as 13 points with 5 minutes, 30 seconds left in the game, but that’s when the Falcons (8-6) came storming back. When junior guard Riley Smith stole the ball and completed a layup with 32 seconds remaining, AOSR cut the deficit to three points.
Parker Huber paced the Falcons with 17 points, and Gabriele Ghione added 16.
Adams said his team was careless with the ball, but that’s something his young team must learn through experience.
“This is a playoff game,” Adams said. “You can’t just willy-nilly throw the ball away; you can’t jack up 3s. You have to be able to get the ball inside, which we did, but we got away from that a little bit.”
One of Aviano’s senior leaders, Gabe Fabbro, took care of business from the charity stripe to seal the win. The forward connected on three free throws late and finished with 23 points.
“Getting fouls, we definitely hunted for those,” Fabbro said. “It’s terrifying. I’m not going to pretend like I wasn’t nervous, but they went in. That’s all that matters.”
Vicenza 42, Black Forest Academy 38: The Cougars found themselves down 12 points in the second half and without their head coach during their second pool-play game.
Greg DeJardin picked up his second technical foul midway through the third, and Vicenza had to claw its way back.
“Every break, we said, ‘For DJ,’ which is Mr. DeJardin,” Vicenza point guard Addie Kropp said. “It motivated us more because we knew we had to get it done. We knew we couldn’t rely on our coach or assistants. It was on us.”
Kropp took that to heart in the fourth quarter. The 5-foot-6 junior scored nine of her team-high 22 points in the fourth, including the 3-pointer that tied the game at 36-36 and a bucket at the 3:30 mark that gave the Cougars their first lead since the first quarter.
She sealed the victory with a free throw with 8.3 seconds remaining.
“Once we started hitting more baskets, once we started getting more steals, we definitely got more into it,” Kropp said. “We definitely got a pep in our step, and we handled it well, finished really well.”
The Cougars would hold a tie-breaker over BFA (1-1) and Marymount (1-1) even if they lost Thursday to Aviano (0-2).
AOSR 25, Naples 11: The Falcons entered the tournament with a losing record overall. But a 5-5 divisional record included a split with the higher-seeded Wildcats.
Wednesday’s third meeting was all AOSR and as a result, the Falcons clinched a spot in the semifinals after defeating both the Wildcats (1-1 in tournament play) and Rota (1-1). AOSR holds a tiebreaker over both those schools even if it loses to Bahrain on Thursday.