By Randy Dela Cruz, Ho'okele Sports Editor
Commander Submarine Force U.S. Pacific Fleet (COMSUBPAC) saw their 11-point lead evaporate, but held on to defeat15th Maintenance Group (15 MXG), 46-43, in a battle of unbeaten Blue Division teams Feb. 13 at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam Fitness Center.
Up by a score of 22-11 at halftime, COMSUBPAC saw their lead slashed to a single point on a basket-and-one by 15 MXG forward Michael Stephens, a military-family member, with 8:56 remaining in the game.
However, that was as close as the MXG would get as COMSUBPAC held on for the win to raise the team’s record to 3-0. Both teams entered the matchup at the top of the division with identical 2-0 marks.
“We were missing one of our main ball-handlers, so that kind of hurt us a little bit,” said COMSUBPAC center Electronics Technician 2nd Class Jesse Gauf.
“Then we started turning the ball over and anybody knows that when you start turning the ball over it’s going to let a team back in there really quick and that’s what happened. Luckily we turned up the defense a little bit the last five minutes of the game and that was the difference.”
After Stephens drew the 15 MXG back to within a point, COMSUBPAC got clutch baskets from Sonar Technician (Submarine) 1st Class Marquis Perry and Lt. Greg Koch, who dropped a trey to keep the team’s advantage at 35-31 with 6:54 left in the game.
Then Gauf turned up the heat with back-to-back putbacks inside the paint to make it 39-33 at the 5:00 mark.
Gauf, who scored six of the team’s first nine points of the game, finished the game with 15 points.
While Gauf had the hot hand for COMSUBPAC, 15 MXG Airman 1st Class Garren Richardson’s long shots from the perimeter kept his team in the game as time wound down.
Richardson’s trey with 4:34 in the game pulled the 15th MXG back to within three points at 39-36, and then at the 2:43 mark, Richardson deposited another bulls-eye from long range to cut the deficit down to two points at 41-39.
The teams traded a couple of baskets over the next two minutes to keep the teams separated by two with 24 seconds on the clock, but COMSUBPAC played keep away long enough to secure the win.
“We just kind of slowed it down,” said Gauf about the team’s ability to hold on for the win. “I think for awhile, we were rushing it, taking bad shots, so I think that’s what happened.”
Richardson said that the team’s slow start, scoring only 11 points in the first half, hampered MXG’s ability to complete the comeback.
“We came out slow on defense,” he explained. “We started in a zone, but more intensity came when we played ‘man’ in the second half. Next time, we need to come out with more intensity on defense. If we turned up on defense, we’ll keep the game much closer. So when we do catch fire in the second half, we’ll be pulling away instead of trying to catch up.”
Meanwhile, COMSUBPAC’s strong start this season is in stark contrast to their struggles of 2013.
Gauf said that the biggest difference this year is overall team experience.
“Last season, we’d never played together,” Gauf said. “We got the majority of players back, so I think the continuity is a little bit better. We’re a little bit undersized, but we make up for it with team defense and rebounding.”