Royals and Raiders back in the finals again
February 22, 2019
WIESBADEN, Germany -- The Kaiserslautern Raiders and Ramstein Royals will play in the DODEA-Europe Division I boys basketball championship game for the fourth time in the last five seasons Saturday, having arranged the rematch with semifinal victories Friday at Clay Kaserne Fitness Center.
Kaiserslautern advanced with a 44-36 defeat of Stuttgart, while the Royals ousted hometown Wiesbaden by a score of 64-44.
Ramstein now sits a win away from a historic fifth straight European title, which would tie the Heidelberg boys’ run last decade as the longest championship streak in any DODEA-Europe basketball division.
But the subtext of Ramstein’s four-year saga of Division I dominance is a concurrent tale of woe for the crosstown rival Raiders, who have seen their title dreams dashed by the Royals in each of the last four seasons.
Ramstein beat Kaiserslautern in the 2015 and 2016 championship games, ousted the Raiders in the 2017 semifinals and delivered the most piercing wound last year in a 46-45 comeback victory.
Ramstein got the better of Kaiserslautern twice in the course of its undefeated 2018-19 regular season, winning 60-41 in December and 65-49 in early February.
Ramstein 64, Wiesbaden 44: The reigning champions lived up to that reputation in a wire-to-wire win over the host Warriors.
In the midst of a multiple-year dynasty and an undefeated season, Ramstein has learned to thrive under the pressure of meeting its own high standards.
“That’s Ramstein. You’re expected to win, and we love it,” Ramstein coach Andrew O’Connor said. “We accept it and embrace it.”
Ramstein pulled away just before halftime. Naser Eaves made a steal and turned it into a breakaway slam dunk; a Gabe Fraley three-pointer with 10 seconds to play in the half extended the Ramstein lead to nine points entering halftime.
Wiesbaden sliced the lead to four on a Tyrese Harris drive with two minutes to play, but the Royals nudged that margin back to seven entering the final eight minutes and gradually built their lead to blowout proportions in the fourth.
Eaves finished with a game-high 24 points, including 11 in the Royals’ fourth-quarter finishing onslaught, while Fraley added 16 points. Jason Jones Jr. was dominant in the paint for Ramstein, enduring the rugged Warrior frontcourt and responding in kind.
“You have to hustle. They’re fighters,” said Jones, who scored 11 of his 15 points after halftime. “They were physical, so we had to be more physical in order to get the win.”
The Ramstein wins were similar to the two preceding defeats of Wiesbaden that bookended its undefeated regular season. The Royals opened their winter campaign with a 67-61 win on Dec. 4, then wrapped it up with a 63-56 victory on Feb. 12.
While Wiesbaden was never able to solve the overwhelming Royals this winter, Warrior coach David Brown had no complaints with his team’s performance. He called Ramstein a “fantastic team” with the high-end talent to score even if a defense does “everything right” to prevent it.
“Our goal every season is to have fun, get better and learn more,” Brown said. “We’ve done all three things this tournament.”
Markez Middlebrooks led the Warriors with 16 points.
Kaiserslautern 44, Stuttgart 36: The second-seeded Raiders advanced to a second consecutive title game with a steady all-around defeat of the Panthers.
Stuttgart hit three first-quarter three-pointers to take a one-point lead through eight minutes, but the Raiders responded with renewed defensive enthusiasm that held the Panthers largely in check from that point on.
“Sometimes you’ve got to win games with your defense, and we won tonight with our defense,” Kaiserslautern coach Corey Sullivan said, adding that his team “played great team basketball on the defensive end.”
Senior Eric Santiago assumed a central role offensively, shifting from the wing to the point when starting lead guard Ervin Johnson picked up a pair of fouls. Santiago scored 11 of his game-high 17 points in the quarter as the Raiders converted its narrow deficit into a 10-point halftime lead.
“I just wanted to get in there, contribute and do what I do,” Santiago said. “Because I know what I can do.”
The Raiders maintained their lead until the latter half of the fourth quarter, when Stuttgart launched its final comeback bid. A steal and breakaway layup by point guard Gavin Abney brought the Panthers to within four points with under three minutes to play, but Stuttgart misfired on a string of jumpers and cut no deeper into the Raider lead.
“We were able to give ourselves the opportunity to get back into the game and possibly win the game, unfortunately we just didn’t make enough shots,” Stuttgart coach Chris Jackson said. “The way that (Kaiserslautern) played and persevered, even when the momentum was swinging, they deserve to be in the championship game. But I’m extremely proud of my boys.”
Santiago was more succinct.
“When teams start getting that momentum, we try to kill it,” Santiago said. Wade Cooper hit three three-pointers in an 11-point outing for the Panthers, while Sabriel Ashley scored nine of his 11 points after halftime.
Johnson joined Santiago in double digits with 10 points for the Raiders.