Lakenheath edges Mildenhall
RAF Lakenheath, England — March Madness hit the English countryside Sunday in the form of the 2009 United States Air Forces Europe Basketball Championship.
The men’s finale was a battle of local teams — No. 1 seed RAF Lakenheath pulled the game out in the final minutes against No. 2 seed Mildenhall 83-79.
"The key was to keep pressure on and keep running," Lakenheath coach Master Sgt. Robert Sedberry said. "Their bench was short. We wore them down."
Both men’s teams cemented their seeds and secured byes in the first round of championship play by having the best records in round-robin play against four other teams. Ramstein was absent from this year’s tournament because of a base inspection.
"This is the best scenario we can have because we got two local rival bases playing for the championship," USAFE Sports Program Director Tom Barnett said.
Both men’s teams came out on fire in a back-and-forth game that had several lead changes. Lakenheath built a 20-16 early lead, but Mildenhall knotted it up at 25 with a big three-pointer. Mildenhall had a 38-36 lead at the half.
Lakenheath appeared down until point guard Gary Gaines hit a big three to make it 73-70 Mildenhall with about 3 ½ minutes left. He followed the three with a big steal that led to a bucket and made it 73-72. Gaines led all scorers with 22 points.
"It means everything," Gaines added about winning the tournament.
Mildenhall forward Byron Washington led his team with 21 points.
In the women’s final, the Aviano Lady Dragons, led by guard Lisa Bryan’s 13 points, defeated defending women’s champion Incirlik 41-34. Aviano guard Ladonna Winston had 10 points.
Incirlik was in a 12-4 hole early before tying it at 16 at the half. Both teams missed several easy shots to start the game. But Aviano pulled away in a physical second half and never looked back after building a 25-19 lead with just under 11 minutes in regulation.
"It feels good," Bryant said about the win.
Incirlik was the team to beat, especially since they have USAFE Player of the Year Jamila Hodges, who led the Lady Nomads with 12 points.
Aviano Coach Mike Barnett credited the 3-2 zone defense he put in this tournament for being able to knock off Incirlik.
"The key was defense … they have a good three-point shooting team," Barnett said.
Barnett said the only disappointment of the tournament has been the lack of women’s teams. Only three women’s teams played. He said he would have liked to see Mildenhall and Lakenheath field teams.