Kaiserslautern’s girls lost in overtime on Friday in the battle of the league’s two top teams as Stuttgart erased an 11 point deficit with two minutes left to earn a 45-44 victory. Stuttgart also won the Saturday contest 51-36. The Kaiserslautern boys split, winning 53-46 the first night and falling 45-44 in overtime on Saturday.
For one half, it was La’Jhanique Brown’s world and the rest of us just lived in it. It was senior night and the loudest applause went to the multi-talented and well-rounded Kaiserslautern senior who for four years has thrilled crowds across Europe with her leadership, skills and the ebullience with which she plays and carries herself. So when the opening tip went up Friday, she got down to business
Stuttgart scored the first basket, but Brown erased that with a three from the top of the key and next time down a three from the left side. Emanjanae Hawkins powered in a lay up for an 8-2 lead and then Brown grabbed an offensive rebound and made it 10-2. After Stuttgart made three free throws, Brown got her 11th first period points on a putback basket and converted the free throw for a three-point play. She also was active on the boards and held Stuttgart to one shot on most possessions. Stuttgart canned a three late and it was 13-10 after one.
In the second, Kaiserslautern sophomore Rebecca Moon made a free throw, then Brown again, on a coast-to-coast two pointer and a strong put back to give them an 18-10 lead. After Stuttgart made a layup and a free throw, Brown buried another three, Hawkins put them up by ten with a basket and Brown, as if to say thank you to the Kaiserslautern fans, banked in a three from half court as the buzzer sounded, ending the half, 26-15 for Kaiserslautern. Brown had 20 of those points and the gym was rocking.
“That was La’Jhanique’s best half against stiff competition,” Kaiserslautern Coach Aaron Scalise said. “However she scored her career high of 29 points in the tournament last year against Vicenza, while playing limited minutes and having only six, instead of eight, minute quarters.”
A lesser opponent might have cashed it in and called it a day. But Stuttgart was not a lesser opponent.
“They are the two time champions for a reason. I have shared numerous times they are the team to beat. They appear to know how to win, and we are still finding this difficult to do,” Scalise said.
Veteran coach Robin Hess settled them down, made some adjustments and watched as her players patiently kept it together. Kaiserslautern actually extended their lead to 12 at the end of the third period. But one of Stuttgart’s second half adjustments was to feed their post player Carly Sharp almost every time down. Even though she was not hitting her shots, the Kaiserslautern defense was forced to collapse on her which allowed the Panthers to spread their offense and get looks from the outside.
In the fourth, Brown netted another three pointer to give the Raiders a 39-24 lead when they called a time out with 6:27 left. The Panthers came out of that timeout and scored on a steal and layup, then turned the screws defensively against Hawkins forcing her to be more concerned about just getting the ball up the floor than running the offense.
The Raiders were still up by 11 when they took another time out at the two minute mark. Stuttgart made two free throws to cut the lead to nine. Then Liv Sullens, the smallest player on the court, with the Kaiserslautern defense sagging on Sharp, picked her spot on the three point ring and took a pass from Sharp and nailed a three cutting the lead to six. Kaiserslautern sophomore Devin Johnson made two free throws to get it back to an eight-point lead. But Sullens hit another three and Adan Maher made a layup, the lead was three with 31 seconds remaining. A Panthers free throw cut it to two with 12 seconds left. Following a Kaiserslautern missed free throw, the Panthers had one last chance. Maher missed her 12 footer from the side, but Jaelyn Page got the offensive rebound and made the put back as the buzzer sounded with the game tied at 41. Sullens finished the game with 12 points, 11 of which came in the crucial fourth quarter.
In the overtime period, Sharp and Hawkins both made two free throws to keep it tied. But the Panthers Skye DeSilva Mathis picked up a basket following a scramble for a two-point lead. Kaiserslautern had a chance to tie with two free throws. The first was made, but the second rolled off and Stuttgart got the rebound and held on for the 45-44 final.
Brown finished with 28 and Hawkins added 11. Sullens was the only Panther in double figures while DaSilva Mathis added 9.
On Saturday, with first place on the line, Stuttgart got 13 from DaSilva Mathis and 10 from Sharp and Mahan to defeat the Raiders 51-36. The Panthers packed their zone, forcing the Raiders to shoot the long ball and then sealed off the boards. Brown led all scorers with 19, including 9 for 11 from the free throw line. Senior Mikaila Bell added seven.
Upon reflection after the tough loss, Scalise felt there were adjustments that could have been made.
“In hindsight, I should have focused on the positive items we were doing,” Scalise said. “I let the emotions of the game get to me. While I believe I stressed during our time outs the clock was our friend, my team still pressed the action. I need to do a better job at communicating this to my team, so they have a greater understanding.”
After the sting wore off, Scalise put it all into perspective.
“I was happy to note, when we are playing together, we can compete with anyone in our league. I was impressed how we were able to work our game plan effectively for three solid quarters.”
On Friday, the Kaiserslautern boys put one in the plus column getting a steady hand and a very strong floor game from point guard Ervin Johnson, 18 points from senior Isak Pacheco and 13 from Eric Santiago to defeat the Panthers 53-46.
Johnson split the Panthers zone and penetrated the lane and found open shooters all evening. Because it was senior night, Coach Corey Sullivan started his seniors putting junior Johnson on the bench. But he entered halfway through the first period and energized the game with his speed and court vision. Both Johnson and teammate Tre Dotson missed the Tuesday game against Ramstein, Johnson with a shoulder and Dotson with a toe injury. Dotson ended up with nine points and held his own on the glass. Nine players scored for the Panthers.
On Saturday, Stuttgart avenged the Friday loss and followed the girls lead and defeated Kaiserslautern 45-44 in overtime. Johnson and Dotson again led the Raiders in scoring.
Kaiserslautern will close out the regular season tonight when the boys host Wiesbaden and the girls travel to Wiesbaden. Post season play begins February 20 in Wiesbaden.