By Randy Dela Cruz, Ho'okele Sports Editor
Down by three points early in the second half, Joint Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Command (JPAC) Ballers went on an 8-0 run to overtake and then hold on to beat 647th Civil Engineer Squadron Bulls, 32-26, on Feb.4 in an intramural Red Division basketball game at Hickam Fitness Center.
With the win, the Ballers are now 2-0, while the Bulls have opened the season with back-to-back losses.
JPAC entered halftime behind, 14-13, and saw the deficit grow by a basket, when Bulls guard Airman 1st Class Jurel Burton popped in three consecutive shots to put his team ahead at 24-21 with under 10 minutes to go in the contest.
However, at the 6:47 mark, Ballers guard Tech. Sgt. Jorge Verlejo pulled up at the top of the key and swished a trey to tie the score up at 24-24.
“That was huge,” said Ballers head coach Maurice Honeywood, a Department of Defense civilian. “I don’t know if it was the turning point because I don’t think it was just one play. It was defense and a constant grinding. We just played hard.”
Three straight free throws by Ballers post-player Master Sgt. Rick June extended JPAC’s lead to three at 27-24, before the team added another basket to complete the 8-0 run and gain a comfortable 29-24 advantage with only 1:14 left on the clock.
Verlejo turned out to be the big gun for JPAC as the shooting guard tallied six points in the first half and finished with a game-high 16 points.
While Verlejo controlled the perimeter for JPAC, teammate June gave the team enough of a presence inside the paint and scored eight points.
“June is a tremendous player,” Honeywood said. “June has a lot of heart, a lot of hustle and is obviously blessed with ability. He’s pretty much our leader out there.”
After struggling in the first half, Honeywood said that he knew that the team had to turn up the heat after the break.
A few tweaks on defense seemed to do the trick, as the Ballers held the Bulls to only 12 points for the entire second half.
“We actually changed some of our defensive schemes to take away some of the drives they were getting,” he pointed out. “And it’s only the second game, so it’s all about chemistry – players getting used to each other.”
Burton, whose energetic play for the Bulls seemed to give his team the early momentum, said that a few calls disrupted their offense.
“We was trying to run our offense,” he said. “I think we ran it to perfection, but some calls didn’t go our way. They made a lot of free throws and we were in foul trouble. I think that’s what sealed the game for them.”
Although the Bulls have opened the season with two straight losses, both defeats were against two of the top teams in the division.
In order to get things going, Burton said that they would have to leave the losses behind them.
“It’s one game at a time,” he offered.
With two wins in their pocket, Honeywood said that JPAC is right on target to achieve their season’s goal.
When he was approached to coach the team, Honeywood said that he would do it only under one condition.
“When the season started, I got these guys together and said that I’m here for only one reason,” he said. “I’m out here to win a championship. I have fun when I win.”