By Randy Dela Cruz, Ho'okele Sports Editor
It took awhile, but on the final night of the regular season, Joint Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Command (JPAC) Ballers reached a goal that the team had envisioned since the first tipoff of the year.
Trailing by 13 points early in the second half, JPAC rallied to get past the 15th Medical Group (15 MDG), 46-37, on March 25 at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam Fitness Center to lock down the Red Division’s fourth and final qualifying seed for the upcoming intramural basketball championships, which begins on April 5.
“That was our goal,” said JPAC center Master Sgt. Rick June. “Our goal was to make the playoffs. Once you make the playoffs, it’s a new season. Anybody can knock off anyone.”
Against the 15 MDG, it appeared that JPAC might be ending their season early after the team trailed for the entire first half and well into the second half.
The 15 MDG entered the game needing to win back-to-back games on March 25 in order to qualify for the postseason, and the squad wasn’t about to concede anything to the Ballers.
Through the efforts of Senior Airman Debronis Warren and military family member James Avery, the 15 MDG seized an early lead and managed to grab a 26-15 advantage over JPAC going into halftime.
After a basket by Airman 1st Class Christopher McCloud raised the lead to 13 at 28-15, the momentum began to shift to JPAC, mainly due to the hot hand of June.
Within a span of three minutes, June sank a basket and then proceeded to swish two three-pointers in a row to pull JPAC to within a shot at 28-26 with 14:10 remaining in the game.
“June is an assassin,” said JPAC head coach Maurice Honeywood, who is a Department of Defense civilian. “He’s our leader out there. He’s just cool as ice.”
McCloud stopped the JPAC run at 11-0 with a trey of his own and Avery scored on a reverse lay-up to extend the lead to seven, but back came the Ballers.
A basket-and-one by Tech. Sgt. Jorge Valero pulled JPAC to within two points and later, June tied the score at 35-35 on an assist from Yeoman 2nd Class Sammell Humphries at the 7:56 mark.
The Ballers completed the comeback a minute later as June connected on a shot in the lane for a 37-35 lead.
Later, June put the game in the bag by going two-for-two at the free-throw line for a 42-37 lead with only 27 seconds on the clock.
“It was a team effort,” Honeywood said. “Everybody stayed together and basketball is always about defense. I think we held them (15 MDG) to 11 points in the second half. I would attribute our win to defense.”
June led all scorers with 22 points but said that the game wasn’t about him. He said that he just wanted to get everybody motivated by going full throttle throughout the game.
“I wanted to carry that momentum onto my teammates,” he said. “I wanted to let them see me playing hard, so maybe it would transition to them to play harder.”
As hard as June pushed in the team’s final regular season, the JPAC strong forward said that it wouldn’t be nearly as hard as he would push in the playoffs.
“We’re going to give it all we got,” June admitted. “I mean, there’s nothing to lose. We’re going in as the number four seed, so the pressure isn’t on us. We’re going to got out, play good basketball and hopefully we’ll win it.”