Jeff Praught | Dugout Chatter
In a championship game that was anything but a classic, the Urban MO’s basketball team and number-two seed in the SD Hoops playoffs staged a huge rally in the second half to defeat Hillcrest Brewing Company 39-37 on March 12. While the score was close, the affair was a sloppy one, filled with ice-cold shooting, turnovers and questionable decisions.
MO’s could not buy a bucket over the first 15 minutes of the game, despite boasting league MVP Johnny Stultz among its starting five. The team’s strength had been creating easy baskets with the athleticism of David Piedra, Ace Vieyra and Stultz. A strong defensive team, MO’s often created fast-break opportunities for its guards and forwards in finishing 9-3 during the regular season.
But as athletic as the roster is, MO’s did not boast much size down low, and Chris “Thor” Schoch was able to take advantage early for HBC. His ferocious rebounding and physical attacking of the basket gave HBC an early 20-10 lead, and the fourth-seeded underdogs carried a 24-15 lead into halftime.
HBC looked like it was going to pull away in a blowout, extending its lead to 14 points with under 14 minutes remaining. But for whatever reason, HBC then stopped going to Thor in the second half, and MO’s began to chip away. Piedra and Stultz knocked down a couple of shots, and MO’s went on a 6-0 run. “Chipped away” is a more appropriate description of what transpired, because it took MO’s nearly six minutes to go on that run. HBC was suddenly lost on offense, passing the ball around but failing to get any open looks. When they did, the shots were not falling.
While HBC struggled, MO’s crawled closer. Vieyra hit a three-pointer with 4:03 remaining to give MO’s its first lead since the opening minutes of the game, 36-35. Samantha Raymer, the lovable coach of HBC, answered with a jumper a minute later. MO’s then took its time passing the ball around before Stultz, the league’s 7th leading scorer with 15.7 points per game during the regular season, found a crease and drove to the basket for another layup.
With just over a minute to go, HBC had the chance to re-gain the lead but could not, and had to foul. Stultz made one of two from the free throw line, giving MO’s a 39-37 lead with 25 seconds, but grabbed an all-important offensive rebound. He drew another foul, but missed the front end of the one-and-one. Jake Hodgens took the ball upcourt for HBC, but MO’s was able to tie him up in a controversial no-call wrestle match for the ball, sealing the two-point victory.
Before the title tilt, number-three seeded Wells Fargo and number-one seeded The Loft squared off in the third-place game. This high-scoring affair was won by Wells Fargo, 63-58, despite a furious second-half rally by John Crockett’s Loft squad. Crockett had previously captained three of the league’s previous four title winners.
On March 18, the league honored its league award winners. In addition to Stultz being named Most Valuable Player, Hodgens captured Defensive Player of the Year honors. Two-time MVP and former DPOY honoree Patrick Schoettler (Wells Fargo Advisors) was given the Best Big Man award. The league’s Best Sixth Man was handed out to Piedra. Bob Iddings (Flicks) was named Most Improved.
Taking home perhaps the league’s most prestigious honor was Raymer. A positive spirit on and off the court, this SD Hoops veteran was presented with the Jeremy Parrish Spirit Award, given annually to the player who best demonstrates sportsmanship while representing the spirit of our league, San Diego’s only basketball league for the LGBT community and its friends. Having played alongside Raymer for several years, it is no surprise that her name was engraved on the trophy that is named after a beloved, fallen friend and original member of the league.
SD Hoops now transitions into its offseason, and will do so under an almost entirely new leadership. I have had the honor of serving on the board of officers for each of the last five years, including the last four as commissioner. During that time, so many league members and officers helped assist me in keeping SD Hoops stable financially, active in our community doing service and outreach, and generally introducing our league to dozens of new players.
The time has come for a new voice to help guide the league, and I could not be more excited that league All-Star and young spirit Noah Ingram will take over the role as commissioner of SD Hoops, after serving as the league’s community outreach officer the past two seasons. His assistant will be David “Mona” Valenzuela, with Brett Drake (treasurer), Brian Ruszkiewicz (webmaster), former Dallas Commissioner Robbie Baker (community outreach), and Marcus Lenihan (secretary) rounding out the board of officers for 2015-2016.
I would be remiss if I failed to recognize a few members of the league who made significant contributions during my tenure. Outgoing treasurer Jeff Hammond served a record eight years on the board as treasurer, and was instrumental in maintaining good relations with the gym and referees. Sereeta Jones had to relocate to Los Angeles for work, but this dynamic player on the court, and lovable character off of it, served on my boards and was always willing to help the league whenever needed. Crockett served multiple terms as the league webmaster, providing fantastic game previews and a broad range of individual statistics for players to track.
And hats off to Paul Demke, longtime coach, player, and sponsor in the league. Demke announced his retirement from the league following Wells Fargo’s third-place finish in the playoffs. One of the longest-tenured members in league history, Demke made many memorable runs at league championships, helped contribute to the positive spirit of this LGBT league, and many will miss his on-court personality.
It has truly been a joy to be a part of SD Hoops’ legacy over the past half-decade. The league will soon announce a schedule for “open gym” sessions on Wednesday evenings, as well as plans for its third summer league, which begins in June. Check the league website for updates.
—Jeff Praught is actively involved in the LGBT sports community. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.