Tuesday, 13 August 2019 15:04

Friendly Competition

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KANSAS CITY, MO (AP) -- Training camp is a memory and preseason is over, so once again the basketball world is abuzz as the 80-game trench warfare known as the OBWL regular season kicks off in 2025. It's time to set aside the friendly exhibitions of October basketball as 28 teams fight and compete to become the ones to lift the Heikkinen Cup in June.

The Kansas City Pioneers opened up the 2025 season at home against a pair of teams featuring familiar, friendly faces with connections to last season's blockbuster trade: The Honolulu Inferno, Pioneers center Richard Hardee's former team; and the Tampa Bay Tritons who now feature former KC superstar Colby Allan.

Inferno 91 at PIONEERS 109

Richard Hardee led the way against his old team, putting up 19 points (9-14 fgs), 14 rebounds, and 6 assists. PG Mack Lavoie added 26 points (12-22 fgs), 6 rebounds, and 6 assists. Kansas City led by two heading into the 4th quarter before outscoring Honolulu 36-20 in the final stanza to pull away with a victory in the home opener. The Inferno pulled to within single digits, 99-91, on two Michael Weathersby free throws with 3:36 remaining in the game but were held scoreless the rest of the way.

New Pioneer Charles Cazares did not shoot well in his Kingsford Coliseum debut (5-17 fgs) but added 14 points, 12 rebounds, 3 steals, and 6 blocks. Cazares helped hold Inferno standout PF Udo Bach to 19 points on 7-19 shooting, and made a number of key defensive plays in the final minutes of the game to help lock down the win. One memorable play came with 6:22 left to go as Cazares picked the pocket of Inferno PF James Williams near the top of the key and then led the fast break, setting up Lavoie for a transition layup.

"My shot wasn't falling but I'm not too concerned by that" said Cazares in an on-court interview immediately following the game. "I just kept working on defense, passing the ball and other stuff and we got the win." In the end, Cazares posted a game-best +23 plus/minus score.

In the locker room, Hardee was asked if facing his old team provided any extra motivation. "Not really" said Hardee. "I mean, it always feels good when you do well against a team that traded you, heh. But I'm mostly just happy I played well, and played well in a real, official game. Preseason is one thing, regular season is a whole different thing. Coming off of a broken foot, if feels really great to have a good game against a guy like Zach Roush, who I know is a good defender."

Tritons 99 at PIONEERS 101

Although still playing at home, the schedule did not let up as the Pioneers had to match up the very next night with the Tampa Bay Tritons, one of the favorites to come out of the American Conference and contend for a Finals berth. The Tritons won 62 games last season and in the offseason added former Pioneer and 5x All Star and 4x All OBWL guard Colby Allan. Allan is still beloved by KC fans for his 2021 MVP campaign that finally brought a championship to the franchise after three previously unsuccessful trips to the Finals.

Allan did not disappoint the fans, looking in top form and pumping in 32 points (including 5-10 three point shots), 4 rebounds, and 5 steals. Behind this strong performance from Allan and fellow All Star Hunter Heath (20 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals) the Tritons took a 6 point lead into the 4th quarter.

Once again the Pioneers' defense dug in during the final quarter, holding Tampa to 22 points in final 12 minutes and just 3 points in the final 1:55 of the game. Mark Marble, the player who stepped into starting two-guard spot following the Allan trade, took over in the 4th with 8 points, a steal, and an assist. Marble hit two momentum-swinging three pointers down the stretch. The first came with 8:28 left, capping a 15-9 Kansas City run that tied the game at 86. The second came with 1:26 remaining, putting the Pioneers ahead for good, 99-96. Marble then put the game out of reach with an assist to Blake Cobb on a possession that drained the full 24 seconds from the shot clock and gave KC a 5 point lead with just 0:49 left in the game.

For the game, the inside duo of Hardee (18 points, 10 rebounds) and Cazares (12 points, 14 rebounds) produced double-doubles for the second straight game. Mack Lavoie added 21 points (8-14 fgs, 5-8 3fgs), 8 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals. Defensively, Lavoie held Tritons PG Hobert Frisby to 5 points (1-8 fgs, 1-5 3fgs) and 6 turnovers.

Marble finished with Player of the Game honors, racking up 30 points (12-25 fgs, 4-8 3fgs), 7 rebounds, and 6 assists. Asked post-game about his head to head matchup with his former teammate, Marble said "It was great, man. Colby and I used to go hard at each other in practice and you knew it wasn't gonna be any different tonight. Colby's a great player and there's a lot of mutual respect there. It's nothing personal, we're both ultimate competitors and that brings out the best in both of us. It was an exciting game, a tough-fought game, and I'm glad we got the win. Tritons are a great team and Colby just takes them to another level, so you gotta really bring it against them or they're gonna embarrass you. Tonight it worked out for us, they're gonna remember this and come twice as hard the next time we play. That's what competition is all about."


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