D-II boys semifinals

BFA tops Rota to seek third straight, with Bahrain standing in way

Bahrain's Derek Westerndorf goes to the basket against Marymount's Steven Ye in a Division II semifinal at the DODEA-Europe basketball championships in Wiesbaden, Germany. Watching the action are Francesco Gnecco, left, Peter Curling and Elton Muzime. The Falcons are in Saturday's final; after defeating the Royals 63-40.


By GREGORY BROOME | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 22, 2019

WIESBADEN, Germany -- The Black Forest Academy Falcons will play for a third straight DODEA-Europe Division II boys basketball title Saturday after surviving a raucous 49-47 semifinal against longtime rival Rota on Friday at Clay Kaserne Fitness Center.

BFA will take on first-time finalist Bahrain, which routed Marymount 63-40 in the opposite semifinal.

Black Forest 49, Rota 47: The tournament’s annual Falcon-Admiral clash moved from its typical Saturday time slot to the Friday semifinal round but maintained its top-shelf entertainment value.

Junior wing Gabriel Kruse swooped in for an offense rebound and dropped in an off-balance putback with three seconds to play to decide the back-and-forth game and keep the Falcons’ dynasty alive for at least another day.

“Luckily, it kind of fell right to me,” Kruse said. “An opportunity like that, you can’t waste it.”

The game was evenly-matched throughout as both teams played a steady, disciplined style predicated on ball movement and intelligent shot selection, though Rota was twice able to build a promising multiple-possession lead.

Successive three-pointers by Antonio White and LJ Chester put the Admirals ahead by five points in the second quarter, but a persistent BFA trimmed that lead to a single basket by halftime. White’s three-point play near the end of the third quarter gave the Admirals another five-point edge entering the final eight minutes, which BFA also erased as Falcon big man Bryce Herring scored seven consecutive points in the paint.

Herring said he realized his team needed a “pick-me-up,” and took it upon himself to provide it.  

“I’m a big dude,” said the 6-foot-5 senior, who finished with 13 points. “I made space down low, posted up and shouted for the ball.”

A controversial technical foul call against Rota’s coaching staff gave Black Forest a trip to the free throw line with 45 seconds to play, an opportunity the Falcons used to tie the game. Soon after, the Admirals inbounded under their offensive basket, arranging the missed shot that set up Kruse’s game-winner.

Jacob Fortune scored a game-high 20 for the Falcons. White scored 16 and Chester totaled 14 points for the Admirals.

The game was the latest entry in one of DODEA-Europe’s signature hoops rivalries. BFA and Rota had met in the previous three European championship games, with Rota winning in 2016 and BFA claiming the last two, including 2018’s 48-47 thriller.

Both teams advanced to the elimination round by small margins in a deep and competitive Division II bracket. BFA won its two pool games by a combined seven points, including a 45-40 defeat of eventual finals opponent Bahrain. Rota fell into a three-way tie for its pool’s two semifinal berths, advancing ahead of Aviano on a point-differential tiebreaker despite a 32-27 loss to that Saints team on Thursday.

Bahrain 63, Marymount 40: The Falcons stormed into the program’s first-ever championship game with a blowout of the overmatched Royals.

“For the last nine years I’ve been wishing this day to come true,” Bahrain head coach Emiliano Herrera said. “We got the whole team together and they played wonderful.”

Senior guard Derrick Lee, a sturdy senior guard Herrera has nicknamed “Brick House,” poured in 29 points in one of the most impressive individual efforts at any level of the tournament to date. Lee drove to the rim at will for strong finishes, earned trips to the free-throw line and knocked down jumpers to keep the Falcon side of the scoreboard ticking.

“I guess I just was the hot man tonight,” Lee said. “Teammates gave me the ball and I finished.”

Bahrain’s initial attempt at building a substantial lead didn’t stick, as the Royals reduced an eight-point lead to a single point at the end of the first quarter. Senior center Gianmaria Bellucci, the clear focal point of the Marymount offense, hit a buzzer-beating layup to keep Marymount in range.

The Falcons’ subsequent push was irresistible. Lee produced 13 points and fellow senior guard Derek Westendorff scored nine of his 18 points in a 23-7 second-quarter run that put Bahrain up for good.

“I think we were moving the ball more, finding the open man,” Lee said. “Just finding the weak spots in the defense.”

The effort propelled the Falcons into a long-awaited Saturday final.

Bahrain was ousted in the semifinals in 2016 and 2017 and missed the elimination round entirely in 2018.

“The boys are so happy and excited to be where they are,” Herrera said.


Twitter: @broomestripes

Rota's L.J. Chester looks for a shot against the Black Forest defense of Jacob Fortune, Bryce Herring and Ethan Powell, from left, in a Division II semifinal at the DODEA-Europe basketball championships in Wiesbaden, Germany. BFA won 49-47 to advance to Saturday's final against Bahrain.

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