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Rangers win first basketball title

The 75th Ranger Regiment defeated MEDDAC 58-47 Thursday to complete the club’s dominating run in the 2011 Commander’s Cup Postseason Basketball Championship Tournament and win its first postseason title.

“I’m basking in the glory,” said Rangers coach Sam Billins after the ceremonial trophy presentation in the Kefurt Fitness Center, which followed the game. “I’m just happy.”

Despite losing the last three games of the regular season, the Rangers outscored their opponents 301-202 during the tournament. Billins said the difference between the regular season and the postseason tournament was having a consistent group of players who enjoy playing together.

“Our veteran players came through in the end,” Billins said. “As it turned out toward the end of the season, we got a core group and were able to maintain them.”

Several other favored teams did not have the same advantage due to key players PCSing in the middle of the playoffs. While Billins said the Rangers lost a few players throughout the year, they gained a big piece of the championship puzzle just in time for the postseason as center Mat Zosel returned from a deployment overseas to give the Rangers much-needed size. MEDDAC found no answer for Zosel, who led all scorers with 19 points.“He was a stalwart,” Billins said. “He did a little bit of everything.”

The loser’s bracket game between MEDDAC and D Company, 2nd Battalion, 29th Infantry Regiment was played just before the final between MEDDAC and the Rangers. Though MEDDAC edged 2/29, 46-42, and played the Rangers tough in the first half, fatigue began to wear down MEDDAC in the second half.

“We expelled a lot of our energy just to get to this point, so I knew going in it was going to be a rough game,” MEDDAC coach James Johnson said. “We stayed within reach the whole game but toward the end, fatigue showed its face.”

Leading 48-43 late in the second half, Ranger guard Eddie Ruiz made a free throw but missed a second attempt, which was rebounded by Ranger forward David Lee and put back in by Zosel for a momentum-killing 51-43 lead.

“They were tired,” Lee said. “I just beat them off the line. By the last three minutes, they were done.”The Rangers never trailed in the second half and it appeared MEDDAC had to hit some difficult shots just to stay within reach.

“We pretty much played from behind the whole time,” MEDDAC guard Christopher Thomas said. “We tried to cut into the lead but they just kept making shots. They hustled. They beat us to loose balls consistently. If you looked at the way the ball bounced, it went their way nine times out of 10.”

Thursday’s championship game marked the third year in a row MEDDAC has reached the finals in the Commander’s Cup postseason tournament, which it had won the previous two years. Though MEDDAC was the first opponent (and the last) in the tournament for the Rangers, Lee said they didn’t let it concern them.

“We expected to win this thing from the beginning, so it feels good just to actually win it,” Lee said. “It feels even better to beat MEDDAC.”