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D-I boys final

Royals continue to be kings of big-school basketball

By GREGORY BROOME | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 23, 2019

WIESBADEN, Germany -- History repeated itself on Saturday. As did the Ramstein Royals.

Ramstein won its fifth consecutive DODEA-Europe Division I boys basketball championship Saturday at Clay Kaserne Fitness Center, defeating the archrival Kaiserslautern Raiders for the second year in a row in a 48-39 comeback victory.

The Royals tied a prestigious DODEA-Europe record with the championship, matching Heidleberg’s run from 2000 to 2004 for the longest basketball title streak in the organization’s history. The win also completed an undefeated 2018-19 season.

Ramstein head coach Andrew O’Connor recalled his start at a volunteer assistant with the Royals, visiting Heidelberg and marveling at the collection of banners.

“I remember...thinking ‘that’s impossible,’” O’Connor said. “‘How it that possible?’”

The Royals made it reality Saturday, even after falling into their usual pattern of spotting an early lead to Kaiserslautern.

The Raiders attempted to shoot their way out of the years-long slump against the Royals with a blistering start from distance. Three-pointers by Isaak Pacheco and Bryan Lunn gave the Raiders early leads, and a pair of quick-hitting three-pointers by Ervin Johnson extended their advantage. Meanwhile, Kaiserslautern harassed Ramstein into misses and miscues and the Royals mostly misfired on what open looks they did manufacture.

The reigning champs began to methodically carve into the imposing double-digit deficit in the second quarter. Point guard Jerod Little drained two three-pointers and Jason Jones Jr. dropped in a putback and a fast-break layup to highlight an 18-3 run that put the Royals up two at halftime and negated Kaiserslautern’s encouraging start.

Both teams struggled offensively out of the halftime locker room until Ramstein unleashed another sudden surge. Gabe Fraley knocked down a corner three-pointer and Little drew three defenders to the rim and handed an assist to Naser Eaves for a 34-27 Ramstein lead with under three minutes to play in the quarter. Kaiserslautern briefly trimmed the Ramstein lead to three midway through the fourth, but the Royals capably restored a multiple-possession lead.

“My boys were ready to play. We’re kind of streaky,” Kaiserslautern coach Corey Sullivan said. “We’ve got to ride the good with the bad.”

The Royals would have preferred not to play from behind yet again, but they never doubted they’d reverse the momentum.

“Every time we play Kaiserslautern, it’s like a battle,” Eaves said. “They came out hot and we waited for it die down, and it almost didn’t die down for a second. As soon as it did, the comeback was real.”

The title brought an end to the prep careers of Ramstein seniors Eaves and Fraley, four-year Royals who won varsity titles as sophomores, juniors and seniors.

“They’re everything,” O’Connor said. “They’re the epitome of Ramstein Royals.”

The senior duo reminisced on their own early days with the program, watching the upperclassmen rack up titles and looking forward to when their turn would come.

Eaves was named the tournament’s most valuable player Saturday.

“We didn’t know our legacy was going to be like that,” Eaves said. “It’s unbelievable.”

Fraley scored 10 points in his typically solid all-around effort.

“You dream about this type of stuff,” Fraley said. “It’s great to be out here and be able to live this out.”

Kaiserslautern, too, is no stranger to the championship game, but it remains trapped in the upside-down version of things. The Raiders have now played the runner-up to Ramstein in four of the Royals’ five championship-game triumphs and fell to the Royals in the semifinals in the other year. Kaiserslautern’s heartbreak reached its apex in 2018 as Ramstein stormed back for a stunning 46-45 victory.

“I’m proud of my boys. They work hard. I wish I could do more for them,” Sullivan said. “In our community, we often are thought of as a second-hand school. We’re not.”

Kaiserslautern’s Johnson scored a game-high 19 points in the loss. Jones paced Ramstein with 16 points, scoring a consistent four points per quarter.

The Royals’ latest coronation was an appropriate end to a day of championship games that saw five reigning champions successfully defend their titles. That list includes the Division III Baumholder boys and Sigonella girls, the Division II Black Forest boys, and the Division I Stuttgart girls and Ramstein boys. American Overseas School of Rome was the day’s only new champion with a win in the Division II girls title game.

But all that action continued a maddening trend for the annual event. The Division I boys final tipped off at 9:52 p.m. CET, nearly two and a half hours after its scheduled 7:30 p.m. start time.

broome.gregory@stripes.com

Twitter: @broomestripes

Ramstein's Naser Eaves goes up for a lay-up during the Division I basketball championship game between Ramstein and Kaiserslautern at Clay Kaserne Fitness Center, Germany, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Ramstein won the game 48-39.
BRIAN FERGUSON/STARS AND STRIPES

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