Naples rallies as D-II’s top seeds all advance
Stars and Stripes February 16, 2023
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany – When the Naples girls basketball team finished the handshake line with Rota on Thursday, the Wildcat boys were waiting for them.
The Wildcat girls just had beaten the Admirals 19-8 during their final pool-play game to punch their ticket to the semifinals in the Division II DODEA European Basketball Championships at Southside Fitness Center. This came right after the boys clinched their berth with a 61-21 win over Vicenza in the game prior.
So, the boys created a tunnel for the girls to run through to celebrate both teams recovering from tough losses late Wednesday.
“The expectation was to play up till Saturday,” Naples girls coach Jim Davis said. “When we lost to AOSR, that came into jeopardy. To be able to get into the (semifinals) and be able to play on Saturday is what we came here to do.”
The Wildcat boys fell to Rota on a last-second shot on Wednesday afternoon after leading for much of the game. The Wildcats (11-6) needed the victory over the Cougars (5-16) to advance.
Naples wasted no time against Vicenza, jumping out to a 13-point lead after the first quarter. It was a balanced performance, as nine players got on the scoresheet and just two totaled double digits – Patrick Fraim with 18 and Cameron Collins with 11.
“We just had to get ready for this game mentally after losing last night, and come into it ready to play,” coach Craig Lord said. “It doesn’t matter who it was – we had to win.”
That will to win is something Collins pointed to as a strength.
“I feel like we want it more than everybody else,” the 6-foot senior guard said. “We’re not the biggest team or the strongest team, but just the will and the work we put behind it (is a strength).”
The girls team, meanwhile, went through a slog against the Admirals (6-9) to advance.
Offense was at a premium, as the teams were tied heading into the fourth quarter at 7-7. That’s when the Wildcats (12-5) got going on offense, scoring 12 points. JuJu Martinez scored five of the first seven points of the frame, and the 5-8 sophomore finished with a game-high nine points.
Naples’ defense also held Rota to just one point over the final seven minutes.
“It felt really good,” Martinez said of the win. “Heading into the fourth, we wanted to get more rebounds on offense and press more on defense.”
It wasn’t a pretty victory, but Davis said style points don’t matter when it’s win or go home.
“There’s no ugly column on the wins and losses, but it took a lot of heart and tenacity,” Davis said. “So, I was proud of them.”
Both squads now turn their attention to the semifinal round Friday at Southside Fitness Center. The boys will face Aviano, which topped its group. Rota and American Overseas School of Rome will square off in the other semifinal.
The four boys teams remaining have been even all year. The Wildcats and Saints split their season series, with Naples winning 73-47 on Jan. 6 and Aviano taking the Jan. 7 encounter 56-50.
“On any given day, anybody can win this thing,” Lord said. “Hopefully, it will be our day. If it’s Rota, if Aviano, if it’s AOSR, it’s who wants it the most and who plays the hardest that gets it.”
On the girls side, Naples takes on Vicenza in the one semifinal, while AOSR and Black Forest Academy duel in the other one.
The Wildcats and Cougars met Dec. 9-10, and the two split the series. Vicenza won 30-29 on Dec. 9, while Naples took the Dec. 10 game 27-25.
“I like the matchup,” Davis said. “They’re a very strong shooting team. I think we guard the perimeter well, and Greg (DeJardin, Vicenza coach) does a really good job with the ladies. So, we’ll see how we match up tomorrow.”