This season's battle between the Mountain Dudes and Black Caviar for the championship of the Freedom Area Basketball League's high school boys "Showtime Division" was a true David vs. Goliath tale.
The Dudes were obviously loaded with talent from the very beginning and went 15-0 in the regular season. Black Caviar, with its 4-11 record, should have passed on the regular season. And its talent wasn't apparent until after that regular season was over.
A board of coaches ran a preseason evaluation of the players who had signed up and tried to distribute the talent relatively equally among the league's 18 teams. Dudes coach George Gmeiner ironically, noted that somebody on the coaches board told him that they thought his team was probably in the bottom half when it came to talent among the teams.
Despite that assessment, the Dudes coach knew he had a good squad right away.
“I saw how the guys worked together as a team,” Gmenier said. “They passed to the open guys and worked with each other. They just clicked."
Gmeiner noted that, "They were all athletes who could run and dribble the ball. And they were good at shutting the other teams down."
He explained his team's jersey color was that of the Mountain Dew soft drink, and felt that "Mountain Dudes" just seemed to fit. Black Caviar coach Jason Moore's team had black jerseys.
As for "Caviar," Moore said it didn't seem to fit or make sense. But he added that he has also come up with nonsensical names in the past.
Gmeiner divided his 10 players into two teams, switching people around only when necessary. He worked off of that scheme most of the year. Both coaches let the kids make a lot of the decisions as to how they would align themselves on the court. And for the most part, the kids were alright.
In their playoff opener, they gave the Dream Team nightmares to the tune of 52-26. Game 2 against the Rusty Buckets was a little tougher.
“It worried me that they were a physical team with a couple of tall kids,” Gmeiner said. “I didn't want our guys to look past that game.”
It was a bit tougher, but the Dudes prevailed 40-31.
The defense starred in game three as Mountain Dudes beat The Bands 50-25 and punched their ticket for the final.
Meanwhile, Black Caviar had to get a ticket just to get in the playoffs at all. To get there, they had to win a play-in game against Buzz City, which they had beaten 41-37 late in the regular season. This time, they won 41-36.
Next, they faced second-seeded Stay Golden. The latter should have been wary of the Caviar team because it had barely won 35-33 in their regular-season game.
Their playoff game also went down to the wire. Caviar's Daniel Gokoyev forced it into overtime when he hit a basket with two seconds left in regulation. Kyle Hatmaker put the team ahead 37-35 when he hit two free throws.
The guard then clinched the win when he stole Golden's in-bounds pass. Defense prevailed in Game 3 as Caviar edged Dreamsicle 37-35.
"Defense was the key for us throughout the playoffs," Moore said.
They faced 2% Milk in the semifinal playoff game, which also went down to the wire.
"We were trailing by six or seven points early in the fourth quarter, but we came back," Moore said.
Hatmaker's 3-point shot was the key basket.
The Caviar squad had clawed its way into the finals while the Dudes had easily cruised there.
However, Gmeiner was worried.
"I kept thinking about the year the Patriots won every game and lost in the Super Bowl,” he said. “I was thinking that I didn't want us to be that team.”
In a kids' sports novel, the two combatants would have played a climactic, triple-overtime championship game with the victory coming on a last-second shot.
But unfortunately for Moore's scrappy squad, this is the real world. The Dudes jumped to a 15-5 lead after a quarter and never looked back. The final score was 43-23 in favor of the Dudes.
"We tried to stop their top scorer and make the rest of them beat us. They did that, and we couldn't stop him, either," Moore said. "They have great depth. Even if we'd stopped their top scorer, it was next man up."
Added Gmeiner: "They couldn't get their shots to fall from the field or the foul line."
Caviar was only 7-for-24 from the free-throw line.