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3 SOPS claims second basketball title in three seasons

Tyrelle Shepherd, 3rd Space Operations Squadron, converts a steal into a fast-break basket during the first half of the Schriever intramural basketball league championship game here Feb. 20. Stacy Kennedy, 1st Space Operations Squadron/50th Space Communications Squadron, defends on the play. Shepherd and 3 SOPS claimed the championship, their second in a three-year span, with a 58-52 victory. (U.S. Air Force photo/Christopher DeWitt)

Tyrelle Shepherd, 3rd Space Operations Squadron, converts a steal into a fast-break basket during the first half of the Schriever intramural basketball league championship game here Feb. 20. Stacy Kennedy, 1st Space Operations Squadron/50th Space Communications Squadron, defends on the play. Shepherd and 3 SOPS claimed the championship, their second in a three-year span, with a 58-52 victory. (U.S. Air Force photo/Christopher DeWitt)

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- The 3rd Space Operations Squadron players had revenge in mind when they took the court for the Schriever intramural basketball league championship game here Feb. 20.

After falling to the 1st Space Operations Squadron in last year's title game, 3 SOPS made sure there would be no repeat. They used a second-half defensive stand to topple 1 SOPS this year 58-52.

It marked the third straight season 3 SOPS contended for the championship. They beat 11th Space Warning Squadron for the 2012 title, but this team was entirely different from the one that raised the championship banner in 2012.

Deane Lake, a 6-foot-10 center, was one of the few players leftover from the previous squad. He helped lead this team to an undefeated regular season, but a sprained ankle sidelined him prior to the playoff tournament. That injury could have proved devastating, but 3 SOPS overcame the loss, and Lake, seeing an opportunity to still contribute, traded his jersey in for a suit and tie.

He roamed the sideline Thursday as the 3 SOPS coach, shouting directions and encouragement throughout the game.

"I was trying to look the part; maybe the suit helped a little," he said.
It turned out 3 SOPS needed his direction. After trading baskets with 1 SOPS throughout
the first half, 3 SOPS clamped down defensively.

"We started out playing a zone defense and they were hitting shots from everywhere," Lake said. "So, we decided to mix it up and switch to a man-to-man defense in the second."

Behind the hot shooting of Willie Jenkins, Sam Bessinger and Terry Irby, 1 SOPS led the entire first half, by as many as five points at times. Jenkins hit three first-half 3-pointers, Bessinger scored all seven of his points in the first and Irby drained eight points before intermission.

Meanwhile, 3 SOPS kept pace behind the efforts of Tyrelle Shepherd, who tallied eight first-half points, Bryan Maher, who added eight points, and Ora Cranford, who hit two long-range bombs.
Most of Shepherd's points came by way of steals and subsequent fast-break layups."He is probably the quickest guy on this base, so his steals are something we've become accustomed to all season," Lake said. "He gets into the passing lanes and has quick hands, so we really depend on him from a defensive standpoint."

Irby gave 1 SOPS the lead in the closing seconds of the first half with a three-point play. It was his third post-up basket of the game. He hit the second of his two foul shots in the half to put 1 SOPS up 34-33.

But, Irby and Napolean Tavale saw their wide-open looks disappear after 3 SOPS switched to the man-to-man defense.

"Their defense was pretty effective early on in the second half," Kennedy said. "They forced us to adjust and we did eventually, but they got a decent lead out of it."

Shepherd finished with five steals while 3 SOPS gradually built a five-point lead.
Jenkins and Tavale kept 1 SOPS in the game, but 3 SOPS played unselfishly. Five different players scored four or more points in the second half as 3 SOPS maintained its lead for the last four minutes of the game.

"Maher played extremely well for us down the stretch," Lake said. "He set a pick and rolled into the lane for a key basket and then hit a 3-pointer at a pivotal point as well. That's just basketball savvy."

Kennedy and 1 SOPS, which actually was a combined team that featured players from the 50th Space Communications Squadron, refused to be disappointed following the loss.

"They beat us by a lot the first time we played them earlier in the season," Kennedy said. "But, as the season moved along we started to gel and play better as a team. I think that showed as we made our playoff run."
 
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