Sunday, July 31st - 2011 FBA FINALS
FBA
buckhopper
COMMISSIONER'S NOTE:

Big congratulations to FBA contributor :icondakotabailey: on receiving her diploma today! :veryhappy:

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SUMMARY:

LOR @ STA: L #4 Firestorm (53-27) 94, W #2 Thrust (62-18) 104 (STA wins in 7)

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INJURIES:
Serhan Tevetoğlu (Turkish Angora Cat, F/C, LOR) - Broken jaw, Out for rest of season
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BOX SCORES:
TBA

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CAPSULES:

LOR | 28 24 21 21 | L 94
@STA | 26 26 26 26 | W 104

Buck Hopper (Rabbit, PG) had been here before.

It was the 2009 FBA Finals. The Thrust had home advantage over the Huntsville Mayors, yet couldn't stop the series from going 1-3. Despite the odds, they fought back to tie it up, forcing a final Game 7 in the last game ever played in the Bull Palace. I was there for that match. In a battle of titans, B-Hop and Xavier Knutten (Squirrel, G/F, HNT) tore up the court, going at each other with the kind of focus and ferocity that makes me fall in love with this sport all over again. In the closest Game 7 Finals in league history-- and the most cruel loss I've ever witnessed-- Zip-Nut hit the game winning buzzer beater in a midrange jumper right over B-Hop's paw.

I still have a photo of B-Hop after that play, kneeling on the floor with his head down, his hands on the back of his head, looking so small and defeated.

I couldn't help but wonder if I would see that again.

Rabbit Valley Pavilion was completely off the hook. Every seat was packed and the fans were wild, cheering all the way to tipoff. I felt extremely lucky to have my seat comped by the FBA-- reports were that the cheapest seats sold for $100 that night. And down in the lower bowl, it was like a who's-who of fame. Furrywood actress Dixie Barker (Pit Bull) was there with her boyfriend Klaus Korber (Doberman, G, TAL). Other FBA players were there including Shane Rufus (Red Wolf, G, MON) who looked like he was already on his fourth beer as he chatted up the unlucky young border collie sitting next to him. 2011 FBA Rookie of the Year Paul Shepherd (German Shepherd, G, MON) was on the other side, looking considerably more sober. Hopper had family support with tennis star Donna Hopper (Rabbit) in the crowd, sadly without her tennis partner. But she was with B-Hop's brother Jack Hopper (Rabbit), who plays as a goalie in the FHL.

The list continued, including Paul Teronura (Otter, C, TEN) with his boyfriend, Moonshiners photographer Farallon (Otter); Dakota Bailey (Wolf), president of the Biloxi Mudpuppies fan club; Sam Gwosdz (Red Fox), general manager of the Williamsburg Minutemen; 2010 FBA Rookie of the Year JTigerclaw (Tiger, G, GAL); William Badd (Black Leopard, G, BGR) of the newly relocated Bangor Bantam; Kenny Henderson (Raccoon, F, DES) and Tazel Tawner (Vixen, G, DES) of the Des Moines Blanks; John Stoat (Stoat, G, SPO); N'duk Hunter (Mongoose, G, SAS); Krystal Bunny (Bunny, G, IDA); B-Hop's old rival and best friend Cheeto Wolfote (Wolfote, G, PLY); general manger of the Spokane Rapids, Nightfire Kitsura (Squnx); and Carter Clausen (Grey Wolf), head coach and general manager of the Tallahassee Typhoons.

And, of course, I noticed B-Hop's girlfriend Valencia Zeraus (Lioness, G, NWK) sitting on the floor across from the Thrust bench. Seriously. Everyone was there.

Including a small group of Lorain fans who had taken over a chunk of the lower bowl seating. Just as I noticed them, the lights went dark save for a spotlight on-- to my surprise-- the visitor's entrance. Bagpipe music was pumped into the PA system while the crowd became confused save for those Lorain fans who cheered all the louder. And their team gave them something to cheer about as the Lorain Police Department came marching out in lockstep and full Scottish regalia, escorting the Firestorm with them to the court. With the bagpipe, fife and drum sounding out "Amazing Grace", the Firestorm players strode out in red and orange kilts, which certainly got a bit of laughter from the crowd. Still, it was striking to watch the team very seriously, very purposefully come out to the court with swords held to their sides that they drew and held out pointing across the court. And then the lights came up again with the crowd booing and confused-- as was I. But the Firestorm fans loved what they saw and cheered for it.

I honestly don't know why Rabbit Valley Pavilion management allowed for the visitors to celebrate like that. But I have to admit-- I'm glad they did. This was a series full of emotion and contention, and there was something refreshing about the reminder that all of this is for the fans-- even the ones who traveled all the way from Ohio to come see this game.

But then it was the Thrust's turn.

The lights went dark again, and lasers shone from the rafters. The Jumbotron lit up as the voice of FBA commissioner Sterne Davids boomed (hah, yeah, I know...) through the speakers. "For the 1995-1996 season, the FBA extends its fifth and final expansion to Stanislaus County in California." A video montage showing the team's humble beginnings in the Bull Palace played, peppered with highlights from the team's earliest stars, including a season with FBA legend Lewis Lachler (Spotted Hyena, F, retired) and the returning Lance Cheval (Stallion, C, SAS). I could hear older fans cheering at seeing some of the old greats, but then when things got quiet and Davids' voice returned...

"With the 4th pick of the 2004 FBA Draft, the Stanislaus Thrust select Buck Hopper of Lapine State University..."

The crowd went wild. Video from B-Hop's draft night and his earliest games, including his ankle breaker on Leo Tang (Lion, C, IDA) were shown. Then more modern highlights like The Shot, when he hit a 3-point buzzer beater to steal Game 5 of the 2009 FBA Finals... The Hop Back play when he beat the one-on-one fast break by hop stepping to the cup then jumping backwards for a wide open fade under the hoop... his jumper over the back of Svenia von Thomassen (Chakat Lioness, C, SFW) to hit the buzzer beater from behind the baseline-- and to my surprise, the steal off Aisha Melbourne (Mink, PF) that sent the game into OT and kept the Thrust alive in this series. After the team was introduced and the lights came back up, my eyes darted to Aisha to see if there would be a response. There was. She held on to her sword from her team's introduction and aimed it toward Hopper, then lowered the tip the draw a line across the floor. Quiet-- but classy, I thought. Certainly classier than Ian Histon (Leopard, G) who bent over, hiked up his skirt and mooned toward the Thrust. That drew a lot of boos from the crowd-- and I figure a fine before tip-off.

As the teams began to get into position, I noticed that Hopper didn't have his armband on yet. He first drank his carrot juice, then made a show of putting it on, taking more time with it than I'd seen in the past. For those who don't know, he never wore the armband in college. He started wearing it at the beginning of his professional career when his beloved uncle died before his first FBA game. He's said in the past he would take it off when he won the Finals-- and along with the thousands of others watching, I wondered if we'd see it come off today.

The truth of the matter is, as a series gets more and more desperate, the opening minutes become more and more boring. Teams start to fall into conservative habits, knowing they can't mess up. It's good ball, just no one is willing to take any risks on a flashy play. And the game opened just that way. The 'Storm kept working their height advantage, keeping the ball high, using short, hopping passes from mink to mink to get the ball inside and make easy, unstoppable baskets. No flash at all, but highly dependable. The Thrust kept to their new playbook of heavy motion and quick shots off the pass. B-Hop again showed his determination to do what his team needed by being a pass-first point guard rather than the scoring machine he usually is. While the bunny was fantastic moving across the floor, showing off his outstanding handles, play after play he kicked out to open shooters or passed inside to well-positioned teammates. Nobody was better positioned than Peter Conner (Cougar, PF) who was electric in the first half. Despite his height disadvantage against the towering Melbourne, St. Peter used his tireless speed and energy to keep catching the mink with stutter steps and shot fakes. I was close enough to the floor that during a timeout, I could hear assistant coach Manuel Katz (Tabby cat) tell head coach Don Von Wasser (Dolphin, C) "That's what Pedro did to me."

The second half was much like the first with the two teams swapping baskets with slow, conservative play. In all honesty, the game had been quite boring as halftime arrived. Both clubs were scoring efficiently, but with the score tied up, a part of me wondered if it would come down to a final buzzer beater-- just like the one that cruelly stole the win from B-Hop in 2009.

I don't normally mention halftime shows, but there was something that struck me in this one. Part of the show involved a band from San Francisco's Chinatown playing traditional instruments, and while the music itself did not terribly impress me, there was a simple message to the performance. A poster was raised reminding the crowd that this was the Chinese Year of the Rabbit and that this was Hopper's seventh year in the FBA.

That resonated with me. And it must have with the Thrust as well.

When the third quarter started, the first minute seemed to roll into the same slow, conservative play of the first half. But just when I was about to declare this the most boring Game 7 I'd ever seen, something happened. Something happened big. Hopper has been passing the ball so much, he only had 6 points going into the third-- something unheard of from one of the league's top scorers. It was almost as if Hopper was scared to go inside-- which no doubt Erich Haber (Mink, C) and Melbourne were thinking as the game dragged. But then out of the blue, B-Hop got around Bill Bent (Armadillo, PG) and charged the paint. Expecting a kickout, Cross guarded the elbow giving B-Hop room to pass. When it suddenly came clear the bunny was going for the basket, Haber moved to block but got screened by Cletus Swinton (Pig, C). That's when Melbourne was forced to stretch for the block, but the bunny got so much lift, he put a hand right on Aisha's muzzle, pushing her back and throwing the rock down hard over her arm.

The foul whistle stopped the clock as the crowd went from sleeping to an eruption of cheers. Melbourne protested the call with the official, but he let the blocking foul stand and a pumped up Hopper walked right up to the seats-- and brought Val to her feet, giving her a kiss. He said something to her that I couldn't hear. That left me wondering what was spoken as Hopper finished the 3-point play.

But now, the game was different. I saw the strategy clearly now-- the Thrust had lolled the Firestorm into an easy game. They had let Lorain keep using their indefensible tactic, getting them in a groove of depending on their height. But now Hopper's team changed the rules as everyone on the club did a 180 and turned the game back to the physical flash they're known for. What would have previously been a Mary Wooten (Sheep, F) jumper from midrange suddenly became a shoulder-checked slam from Swinton. What would have been a pick-and-roll to Conner became a pick-and-pop from Blythe Nacht (Red Fox [silver phase], G) who went white-hot in the third. The sharpshooting rookie drilled home 4 3-balls in the third quarter alone, totally stunning the Firestorm, who found it hard to get a 3-pointer groove going after depending on their height for all their buckets. What had been a tied back-and-forth match became a small lead for the Thrust, who went up by 5 going into the fourth.

Lorain had to regroup and get their mojo back. Now with the pace of the game changed, the shots weren't going down. As it turned out, Haber's, Melbourne's, and Cross' arms were tired from holding the ball so high, and without Serhan Tevetoğlu (Turkish Angora Cat, F+) the team didn't have any more towering options left. Melbourne looked especially upset, not just on having been dunked on, but with hir team falling behind. As the fourth got underway, B-Hop's instructions to his team was clear. Keep up the pressure. Keep hitting hard. Don't be afraid to make fouls.

The fourth quarter was the kind of play everyone had been waiting for. Needing a new scoring outlet, the Firestorm turned to their underused guards. Bent moved the ball around, getting it to Leonardo De Hugo's (Lion, SG) paws, but with Doral (Gecko, SG) in the 2 guard spot and having under exerted hirself in the first half, the lizard had bounding energy and locked up the shots. Shi got three mid-air tongue blocks including a tail steal from Ian Histon, who managed a brief scoring one hitting 3 shots in a row, but failed to connect on all his other attempts. Nacht kept firing off daggers, including one phenomenal highlight when Carlos Syevens-Quiles (Calico Cat, SF) jumped from behind the free-throw for a dunk. When Haber and Melbourne stepped in to block, the feline reached around Haber's body to pass behind the skinny mink's back to Nacht at the shoulder-- who then snapped silk from the woods.

When the Thrust broke into a 14 point lead, the Firestorm panicked. During a time out, Melbourne was seen shaking and yelling to hir teammates, looking terrified of what could be a huge loss. When shi got back onto the court, shi demonstrated that determination by colliding with Michael Porter (Mallard, F) on a play, bowling over the duck as she finished a slam dunk with the foul. She may have been too tense, though, as she missed the free throw bad. The rebound came into Hopper's paws who raced up court for the fast break. Cross was there to follow him for the one-on-one and to the delight of the crowd, B-Hop performed once again his Hop Back play, jumping toward the basket, then bouncing backwards off his feet. Cross was so thrown by the redirection, he tripped on his own feet and slammed into the pads as Hopper banked the fade off the glass.

As B-Hop jogged up court, he was pushed by Melbourne. While shi didn't get a technical (shi should have) B-Hop stumbled and ignored hir, jogging into position-- though he couldn't hide the little smirk I could see on his face. The bunny knew he was messing with them-- and as he always has, he was enjoying it.

He kept messing with them into the last minutes of the game as the situation grew more and more desperate for the Firestorm. Flashed of hope appeared when Ian Histon drilled home a 3-ball just before the shot clock buzzed, giving the Storm critical points they needed to stay alive. But then Blythe Nacht put one down from the woods himself to even the score back up. Bill Bent managed to strip Douglas Smith (Coyote, G), but the armadillo lost control of the ball as he tried to rush up court, giving Smith a chance to take it back, move it back the other way, and set up Doral for an alley-oop dunk with the Lorain D totally caught off guard. Through it all, Melbourne got more and more furious, snapping at the officials, yelling at her teammates, going at the cup harder. She ran inside and bowled over Chrys Brachy (Maned Wolf, C) on one vicious dunk-- but the points were waived when a charging call was made. That made Melbourne scream and was only spared a technical because Haber quickly pulled her away.

There's a moment in basketball games when the winner is known. The game isn't over, the timer's not done, but there's no chance for the victory to go any other way. With the timer just past the last minute of the game and the Thrust up by 10, that moment happened. The crowd rose to their feet and cheered their ears off, knowing this was it. The Stanislaus Thrust was going to have their first ever championship. Hopper brought the ball up and held it, dribbling away as Ian Histon faced him, but did not go after him, holding back, letting the bunny dribble. Melbourne looked to be in tears as she begged with her teammates and coach to keep playing, which just made head coach Delenna Dresden (Ferret) call a timeout at the start of their last possession to sit down the sobbing mink. Monty Silverthorn (Pine Marten, G) tired another 3 pointer-- missed, the ball went back to the Thrust, and with less then 24 seconds left on the clock, the shot clock was turned off.

The crowd screamed all around. Everyone watched as the clock ticked down to destiny and as B-Hop calmly dribbled the ball up court and stood just past the halfcourt line, standing on the team logo. Histon stayed back, hands on his hips, head down and frowning waiting for the buzzer to call. The rest of the team stood around, relaxed, moving slowly, allowing the clock to expire. But my attention was at the middle of the court as Hopper and Histon looked at each other. It struck me that the two had both lost family members in their first years, Buck before he started, Ian during his rookie season. Only one of them could win tonight, and it was going to be Buck. Though I did think to myself, Buck had been waiting longer.

When the buzzer sounds to end the game, often the last ballhandler will throw the ball straight up in celebration. But Buck did something different.

He stopped dribbling before the timer went out and tucked the ball under his arm. With his eyes big and wet, tears starting to well up, he reaches across his body to his other arm and began to pull the band from around his bicep. He watched the clock above the basket as he did it and when that buzzer finally did sound followed by the deafening cheers of the fans, B-Hop gave gave the ball to the official, stepped up to Histon and hugged his opponent. He then gave Ian the armband.

As the balloons and streamers fell from the ceiling, a stage was wheeled onto the floor. FBA Commissioner Sterne Davids came out to present the Healey Davis Trophy and announced that Buck Hopper was declared 2011 FBA Finals MVP. As the Stanislaus Thrust team crowded onto the stage,jumping and cheering, pumping their fists into the streamer-filled air, Hopper took the trophy from Davids and held it up for everyone to see.

As part of the media, I was allowed to come onto the stage and speak with the team. I congratulated assistant coach Manuel Katz for winning his first ring, something well deserved after his 23 years as a player. He smiled to me and showed me his paw, in which he held two rings.

"Why do you have two?" I yelled, trying to be heard over the cheering.

"The conejo gave me his!" he yelled back. I know that I looked stunned by that, not expecting that kind of generosity from Hopper. Katz smiled knowingly, reading my face like a book. "He'll probably ask for it back in the morning!"

That made sense. It was clear B-Hop wasn't thinking about the ring just then as I saw him holding the trophy. He was hugging it, resting his head against it, tears down his face. I could see he was saying something, but I couldn't hear in the noise, but I held out my recorder to try to pick it up.

It wasn't until I got back to my studio that I played it back. And it made my eyes well up, too, listening to Hopper say over and over, "We did it, uncle. We did it. We did it." After everything in his career-- betrayed by his teammate, clawed open on the court, losing everything by a single bucket, after all the pain, the suffering, the controversy and tragedy-- finally B-Hop had won it all. In his seventh year. In the Year of the Rabbit. And the thing on his lips was a message to his uncle.

"We did it, uncle. You can rest now."

Wednesday, July 27th - 2011 FBA FINALS
FBA
buckhopper
SUMMARY:

STA @ LOR: W #2 Thrust (62-18) 122, L #4 Firestorm (53-27) 118 OT (LOR leads 3-2)

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INJURIES:
No one injured.
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BOX SCORES:
TBA

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CAPSULES:

STA | 19 30 25 28 OT20 | W 122
@LOR | 27 24 21 30 OT16 | L 118

Mary Wooten (Sheep, F) is not your typical baller. For one thing, your typical baller didn't used to be a nun. A devout, habit-wearing nun.

Mary grew up in Cumberland, Maryland, where she was educated in the schools established by the Ursuline furry order. Taught by nuns in class, she was coached by them as well when they encouraged the 6 foot and growing ewe to join the high school basketball team. Young Mary excelled at the sport and quickly made a splash in Western Maryland and the Potomac Highlands, leading her team to their best regional championship run in history. Her coaches were so impressed, they spoke openly of young Mary's chances at receiving a sports scholarship to college and possibly one day going pro in the FBA. Few of them expected her to enter the convent after graduation.

Wooten has never given her reasons for entering the convent right out of school. When Furballer magazine interviewed her mother superior, the raccoon didn't know either, though she hinted that Wooten may have been trying to escape difficulties with her family. She did confirm that the young ewe played basketball with the other postulates while they were cloistered, (Not a strange thing at all-- the Vatican officially recognized basketball as an approved sport for nuns in the 1950s. --ed.) and that she, in her own words, "dominated that court like Deborah on Israel." It took 15 months before her pleadings reached the determined young ewe that she would serve the Lord best taking her skills to the world then bottling them up inside His church. And soon after Wooten left the convent, she did get a full-ride sports scholarship, she did continue to excel at her sport, and she did get picked up in the second round of the 2006 FBA Draft.

While she's easily the greatest ex-nun ever to play in the league, her career has been humble. Never starting, often kept in deep reserve, the Habit-- as her teammates called her-- never got stellar stats, but still clearly belonged in a pro league. Her value lay more as a relief player to give her teammates rest, both during and between games. Her training in the order was useful in cooling down and guiding her teammates. While she only made two buckets in the entire 7-game series of the 2009 FBA Finals, everyone on the Huntsville Mayors were clear that the Habit did her part to win the club's first title in 9 years.

It's a curious bit of fate that Wooten was signed by the Stanislaus Thrust in the off-season, the very team she helped defeat in 2009. And it's curious again that she's making her second Finals trip in 3 years. But the Thrust need her now more than ever.

Buck Hopper (Rabbit, PG) used to be known as one of the most emotional players in the league. Even before he played his first game, he was so grief-stricken at the loss of his beloved uncle that he had to take time away from practice to be with his family. Since then, the bunny has ferociously gotten in the face of players he thought got away with fouls, has openly taunted predators who looked down on him, has gone out of his way to drive home that he was prey that could play better than any predator. Time, maturity, and the unforgiving training of his former teammate and current assistant coach Manuel Katz (Tabby cat) helped break B-Hop of his attitude problems. But it would take more than Katz's stern gaze to bottle up the emotions that overflowed after Game 4.

B-Hop refused to go to the mic in the post-game interviews, leaving his teammates to field questions about the team's superstar. "He's-- not taking it well," Michael Porter (Mallard, F) understated. "He threw a few things. Said some things. Some mean things. He's-- dealing with all this in his own way."

Later, Manuel Katz offered his own opinion, based on years of working closely with the rabbit. "This is very hard for him," the tabby explained. "After last year, we knew he needed help, and we got him help. Pedro [Peter Conner (Cougar, PF)] and Cletus [Swinton (Pig, C)] have been magnificent additions to the team, they've played so hard to support the conejo, and together we beat the Bikers. To have lost so badly to the 'Storm after that-- to lose because of height, because we don't have enough tall players, tall enough players-- it is very hard for him. When we're this close." He sighed and added, "I also think he promised his girl he would beat them."

All of that could be felt as the series went into its fifth game, the last match in Lorain, possibly the last match of the series and the season. With the Firestorm up 3-1, the fans packed the Fireplace, roaring for their team, eager to see the confetti fall and the Healy Davis Trophy awarded to their club. The analysts all predicted the same thing-- easy Lorain victory. Guaranteed, no chance the Thrust could win. It was what it had been from the beginning-- the Firestorm were simply too tall, too big, too dominant on defense. The Thrust didn't have the size or the height to win this one. In 48 minutes, it would all be over.

With those words being spoken over the airwaves, the Thrust huddled into a circle on the court. Usually Hopper, as team captain, would be in the middle pumping up his teammates. But this time it was Wooten who stood in the middle, offering her own quiet words of encouragement and faith, despite the enemy sea of fans all around. Head coach Don Von Wasser (Dolphin) explained to one reporter, "Wooten asked to lead the huddle. We all agreed it was a good idea."

The cetacean wasn't without his own strategies. Susan Kruegar (Raccoon, F/C), who had been instrumental in shaking up the front court to get the team's lone win this series, returned to deep reserve for St. Peter to return to power. But Doral (Gecko, SG) remained at the 2 guard position, bringing up last year's first round pick, Carlos Syevens-Quiles (Calico Cat, SF), or Katz 2.0, as his teammates like to call him. The lineup strategy was simple. Now the club looked much more like the high-offense machine that took the 2009 Finals to 7 games, but most importantly, that won a critical Game 5 on the road. It was clear Von Wasser was banking on his team doing that again.

And now he probably wishes he'd put money on it.

The game opened like it was a continuation of Game 4. With Erich Haber (Mink, C), Aisha Melbourne (Mink, PF), and now Serhan Tevetoğlu (Turkish Angora Cat, SF) starting, the Firestorm front court had triple towers with all three players towering over 7 feet. That meant ridiculous defense on every attack, as B-Hop had all four of his first four shots from the post swatted down, and not a single offensive rebound for his team in the first quarter. The frustration boiled over quickly for B-Hop, but some early time outs and quick talks with Wooten kept the bunny focused. The rest of the team struggled around the towering minks who scored at will, with Haber's and Melbourne's hook shots sailing well over the heads of Swinton and Conner. The Thrust did manage to score some backdoor points, drawing the defense away from the weak side for the kickout shots, but it was hardly enough to stay in the game. The Sauce quickly fell back by 8 points to end the first.

A sharp-eyed fan caught the new strategy on his oPhone, later uploading the video to his social networking page. "All right , [expletive] defense!," Von Wasser spat to his players as she splashed in his tank. "There's no way for us to stop those minks in the paint, so stop trying. We're going to hit them as hard and as fast as we possibly can. You know we're in desperation mode here. Now play like it!" Doral sat down for the second quarter, putting rookie Blythe Nacht (Red Fox [silver phase], G) in. With both of their biggest defenders riding the pine, the team was armed for furious offense. And physical. When Hopper hip-checked Leonardo De Hugo (Lion, SG), the crowd booed the bunny when he was given the charging foul. But the collision had put De Hugo on the floor, and when Hopper had Bill Bent (Armadillo, PG) screened off him again to go at the lion, De Hugo hesitated, giving Hopper the space he needed to put up a high floater than snapped silk. The hip-check was peanuts, though, to Swinton's shoulder charge right into Haber's chest, shoving the mink back right into the pads. The crowd roared when the official let the play go and counted the pig's bucket, adding to the home team's frustrations.

In the second half of the quarter, the Thrust began to find their groove. Taking coach's advice, B-Hop scored less and assisted more, driving inside to collapse the mink trio, then kicking out to his teammates. Suddenly, Michael Porter and Blythe Nacht became invaluable as the two 3-point shooters worked opposite sides of the court, offering two kickouts and forcing the 'Storm to split their D. And just when it looked like they were going to figure it out, B-Hop punished them with a phenomenal pass fake that sent the minks out to the edges, giving a wide open layup to the bunny. By halftime, the Thrust had trimmed the deficit to just 2.

The new strategy was working, but at a cost. The team was working hard to keep moving around the court and setting up the buckets off the quick pass, and even after the halftime break, the players were visible fatigued. Strategy changed again as Von Wasser put Kruegar and Wooten onto the floor along with Doral and Randy Catcher (Bullfrog, G). With extra height and extra D, Doral and Dig 'Em hit at the 'Storm hard, fearlessly drawing fouls from rough, physical play. When Gerry Cross (Mink, SF) was forced to kick out of a shot to Monty Silverthorn (Pine Marten, G) on the shoulder, it couldn't have been an accident when Doral lept in front of him putting a hand on the back of his head-- and giving the mustelid a face full of his gecko crotch. That drew a foul-- and a smirk from the lizard-- as Silverthorn then became almost totally ineffective that quarter, missing all six of his following shot attempts. And the defense didn't stop there. When Chrys Brachy (Maned Wolf, C) put out his long arm to try to block a shot from Haber from the middle of the key, the clever mink hesitated, crouching to let the wolf fly by and leave him open. But when Haber lifted the ball to shoot for real, Randy Catcher lept in and slapped the ball down, recovering, and slinging the ball up court to Doug Smith (Coyote, G) for the young coyote's first slam dunk this Finals series. Remarkably, the Thrust managed to outscore the 'Storm again, taking their first lead at the end of the third.

With the crowd nervous now, Lorain head coach Delenna Dresden (Ferret) furiously worked up a new strategy. "Control the skies!" she barked to her team. "Remember that! That's how we win! That's how we succeed!" Her team took that to heart as Tevetoğlu returned to the lineup to recapture that indefensible high-arc shooting. But as soon as the 'Storm did that, Von Wasser put in his heavy offense club once more. Still exhausted and overplayed, they fought hard to keep up with the heavy Lorain scoring. No one fought harder than Hopper who kept leading the charge, bringing up the ball and getting his teammates to the cup with crisp distribution of the ball. It was in the final minutes that Carlito broke out, giving his team a chain of second chance points by putting up tip-in after tip-in and getting some of the most unlikely rebounds jumping up among the minks. In one incredible play, Melbourne had to stretch out her arm to grab a defensive rebound as it came off the rim-- and before she could plant her feet again, Carlito flew in, stripped the ball from her outstretched palm, then reverse-dunked around Haber all in one fluid motion. That earned a huge cheer from Katz, who later hugged his protege in a following time out.

The score remained close as the 'Storm kept the ball high for those unstoppable arcing shots. The dagger seemed to go in when Haber swatted down what would have been a brilliant turnaround fade from P-Con, preventing the tying bucket. When Lorain recovered the ball with less than 23 seconds left, they confidently held to it, thinking they had the win. When the ball was passed to Melbourne, the mink held the ball high and unreachable to wait out the clock, but in a play that couldn't have been in anyone's book, Hopper came up to defend the towering mink. Cameras spotted Buck smiling up at hir as he put a paw on hir rear, and stroked hir tailbase. That made Melbourne smile and lower the ball-- which B-Hop quickly slapped out of hir paws, recovered, spun-moved around Bent to go at the hoop and throw down a rim-rattling crusher with 0.3 seconds left to tie the score and force overtime.

Dresden argued with the officials over the contact which was deemed legal since B-Hop had not tried to push off or push against Melbourne. Still, the move rattled the mink so badly, shi sat down for OT, looking miserable on the bench. With the first extra minutes of the series coming up, Haber looked uncharacteristically annoyed-- maybe that's why Swinton won his first tipoff entering the quarter. That gave the Thrust a critical possession ahead of the Firestorm as the brief quarter turned into a tit-for-tat scoring battle. Each side managed to snap silk on each possession, the Firestorm with their unstoppable top shelf shooting, the Thrust with their rapid passes and quick looks off the assists. Peter Conner took off in OT, showing incredible conditioning and very little fatigue despite his extended minutes. With Melbourne sitting down, he played hard and rough against Renard Antouille (Boar, F). In one phenomenal play, the big cougar went up at the cup with Antouille planting his feet and holding him back-- but despite being too far to reach the basket, St. Peter just elevated and slung the ball down the drain for the points and the foul. That extra point was the dagger as the Firestorm kept scoring on their possessions, but couldn't quite keep up. The Sauce were still a point ahead when they had the last possession in the final seconds, forcing the 'Storm to desperately go for an intentional foul. But Hopper played keepaway as long as he could, and before he was grabbed, he passed to the underused Blythe Nacht he put up the final shot from behind the arc-- and sank it, sealing a 4-point overtime victory for the Thrust.

The crowd wailed as the Thrust teammates piled on top of Nacht and cheered. With the series going to Game 6, the match returns to Rabbit Valley Pavilion. Mary Wooten took questions after the game, and after she confirmed that she found B-Hop's stroking of Melbourn's tail tasteless but effective at keeping the team in the game, she addressed one reporter's concerns about the Thrust having not yet won a game at home this series.

"I have faith," she said, sounding confident in the microphone. "My coach back at the convent always told me, 'If you want to win, you have to give every ounce of yourself to your training, to your playbook, to your team to be the very best you can make of what you are. God takes care of the rest.'"

Monday, July 25th - 2011 FBA Finals
FBA
buckhopper
COMMISSIONER'S NOTE:

Already, not fully caught up yet, but I did write capsules for the last two nights. Hope to have this all updated by tomorrow night! Wish me luck!

July 21st: http://www.furaffinity.net/journal/2556596/
July 23rd: http://www.furaffinity.net/journal/2556606/

SUMMARY:

STA @ LOR: L #2 Thrust (62-18) 88, W #4 Firestorm (53-27) 107 (LOR leads 3-1)

------------------------------
INJURIES:
No one injured.
--------------------------
BOX SCORES:
TBA

-------------------------
CAPSULES:

STA | 28 17 20 23 | L 88
@LOR | 25 24 30 28 | W 107

Sitting on the mouth of the Black River, Lorain, Ohio, is a town used to hardship. When a tornado ripped apart downtown in 1924 leaving thousands of anthro families homeless, the furries of the community pulled together and erected building still in use today. While the Firestorm play in a wholly modern sports facility, visitors to Lorain note how the side facing Lake Erie is an old, soot-stained brick wall, looking much like the inside of an old fireplace. The sharp-eyed ones might even notice the hairs and strands of fur fossilized in the concrete between the bricks. And the locals are proud to say, that wall was put up in 1928 by those same furs who rebuilt the city, and it's what gave the facility its much-loved nickname.

When Lorain was awarded an FBA franchise in 1970, they became the second expansion team in the league's history, the first ever in the Eastern Conference. Many of the older fans can remember the frustration they felt when the first expansion team-- the Montana Howlers-- quickly dominated the league, gathering up a breathtaking 9 titles in just 16 seasons. It would take 22 years before the Firestorm would see a hint of that fortune, finally winning their first chip in 1992. Then came the Healy Davis years, the rise of the Bikers-- and a second chip in 2002, won off one of the greatest jumpers in FBA history, the "Rainbow off Erie's Edge", a phenomenal bucket from behind the backboard off the wingtips of Lorain Hall-of-Famer Victor Charadine (Killdeer, G, retired). It was much-needed relief for the sports fans of Ohio who had seen years of tragedy and would see years more.

But Charadine-- dubbed "Broken Wing" by his fans-- had said something meaningful before he retired the following season. "Control the skies," the avian quipped, most likely teasing at the fact he was strictly forbidden from using his wings while he played. The one-flap rule wouldn't be instituted until after his retirement. "Control the skies, and the Firestorm will always win."

That was advice head coach Delenna Dresden (Ferret) took to heart, though probably not in the way Broken Wing expected. Instead of bringing on another brilliant avian shooting guard, she slowly recruited the tallest roster in the FBA. And while all of her players are ground-based species, the Thrust have quickly learned, the Firestorm control the skies.

Having come off their first win of the series, the Thrust seemed pumped as they huddled before tipoff, forming a circle around team captain Buck Hopper (Rabbit, SG) and hopping up and down with the bunny. The team had tried to beat the Firestorm at their own game by putting their tallest bodies on the floor early, and it seemed to work. A six-point win on the road gave the struggling club their first glimmer of hope. And that energy mixed with that vertically-enhanced lineup help drive the team to a 3-point lead to end the first quarter after strong back-and-forth scoring on the floor. But then it all fell apart.

Having figured out the flaws of the previous game, the Firestorm found a way to deal with the Sauce's new strategy. Renard Antouille (Boar, F) came in early to replace Aisha Melbourne (Mink, PF), and while the Gaul had none of the height to challenge Susan Kruegar (Raccoon, PF), he gave the rookie a serious introduction to the FBA when he knocked her down with his shoulder, slamming into her on a vicious up-and-under move. That drew a foul, and then another under a minute later as the team worked hard to exhaust the rookie. It didn't take long before Kruegar was forced to sit down with Michael Porter (Mallard, F) taking her place. But then Melbourne returned and the Firestorm locked up the skies. No one on the Sauce could make a bucket with the towering minks on full attack, their tall bodies and long arms blocking every shot. It got so bad that Cletus Swinton (Pig, C) got blocked 3 times in a row by Erich Haber (Mink, C), each time recovering the swatted ball and still not being able to reach the cup until the shot clock ran out. The frustration ran high as the big pig shoved Haber back, earning a technical and making coach swap him out with the cooler-headed Chrys Brachy (Maned Wolf, C). But even the tallest player on the Thrust couldn't stand up to the mink towers, who put on a defensive clinic, preventing anything from getting at the rim.

It got even worse after halftime. The Thrust clearly needed to score, so they sat down their defensive players Doral (Gecko, SG) and Randy Catcher (Bullfrog, G) to get Blythe Nacht (Red Fox [silver phase], G) and Carlos Syevens-Quiles (Calico Cat, SF) on the floor. Buck Hopper led the charge, diving back into his old role as a scoring point guard, heading up each play and taking it to the cup when he found his openings. But the defense was too intense. Despite using all of his signature plays, tearing inside at rocket speed, hopping back for space before putting up his lightspeed fadeaways, there were just so many paws in the way, someone always managed to stop the shot. When rookie Serhan Tevetoğlu (Turkish Angora Cat, F/C) joined Melbourne and Haber, the Storm had three 7 foot plus players on the court-- and no matter how much B-Hop twisted or hopped back or changed his shot mid-air, one of those towering carnivores kept his shots from scoring. It was too much for the bunny known for his determination to show up predators on the court. When his fifth shot attempt was blocked despite making a phenomenal mid-air double-clutch off-handed layup, the bunny screamed and swore until an official T'd him up. Almost shaking with anger, Von Wasser had to sit B-Hop down, and the bunny did, holding his head down on his lap, thumping his foot against the floor with rage.

And through it all, Lorain calmly scored. When Doug Smith (Coyote, G) took over point, Ian Histon (Leopard, G) showed him some of his Rookie Game MVP skills by breezing by the canine for quick J's from the top of the key. Monty Silverthorn (Pine Marten, G) was his usual sharpshooting self, penetrating into the Thrust's front court to put up shots that, if they didn't go in, were easily put back or rebounded by the towering minks. And just to add insult to it all, Joey Juloni (Leopard, G) put the crowd on their feet when he took a cross-key bounce pass from Haber, faking Swinton out and giving the spotted cat a chance to throw a rock down hard on the pig's nose.

The second half was never questioned. At the final buzzer, Lorain won Game 4 by 19 points, the biggest spread of the series. The Fireplace was full of cheers as the Storm hugged and high-fived each other, taking a dominating 3-1 lead in the series. The Thrust left with heads down with the players having little to say in post-game interviews.

But Haber said enough. "We controlled the skies," he reminded the reporters.

Charadine would be proud.

Saturday, July 23rd - 2011 FBA FINALS
FBA
buckhopper
SUMMARY:

STA @ LOR: W #2 Thrust (62-18) 105, L #4 Firestorm (53-27) 99, (LOR leads 2-1)

------------------------------
INJURIES:
No one injured.
--------------------------
BOX SCORES:
TBA

-------------------------
CAPSULES:

STA | 30 25 20 30 | W 105
@LOR | 26 25 21 27 | L 99

It's a favorite story among Stanislaus Thrust fans. In the 2009 FBA Finals, Billy Joe James (Mule, C, BAL) had helped power his team to the top of the Western Conference, but he was totally outplayed by the bigger, stronger Alan Chesuk (Moose, C, SPO). Without a taller player, it seemed hopeless for the Sauce to match the Frost Giant, but Paul Teronura (Otter, C, TEN), a pickup from the Moonshiners who had played backup power the whole season, stepped up to the challenge and used his big paws to keep hassling the moose. It was a perfect sports story-- forgotten guy steps up to a tyrant and proves himself better than anyone expected.

The Thrust needed that again. And this time, it was with rookie Susan Kruegar (Raccoon, PF).

The Sauce were in trouble after dropping two games at home. Don Von Wasser (Dolphin) didn't sugar-coat it for the reporters. "We're in trouble," he said flatly, slouched over the edge of his water tank. "This was not the way to start a Finals series. It's never over until it's over, but this is not the way to start."

That same feeling was echoed by team star Buck Hopper (Rabbit, PG), who ran his hands over his long ears in frustration as he listened to questions about his club's failure in Rabbit Valley Pavilion. "We're getting outplayed," he admitted. "There's gotta be change. We gotta change up what we do."

That change came in tonight's game, the first of the series in Lorain. With the Ohio crowd filling the seats, they welcomed their 2-0 Firestorm to the court with deafening cheers. And there to oppose them was B-Hop, slid back to his usual point guard position, along with Doral (Gecko, SG) and Peter Conner (Cougar, SF) sliding down a role to make room for the seven foot raccoon rookie, Susan Kruegar.

There was no questioning the strategy. Don Von Wasser wanted big players on the floor, and this was how he was going to do it. It was risky, though-- Kruegar had barely played at all in the regular season. And she was going to go up against Aisha Melbourne (Mink, PF), a 7 foot 3 beast with a good seven years of pro experience. But coach's instructions were simple. "Just win this one," he was overheard telling his team in a pregame huddle. "I don't care what it takes. Just win this one."

The Thrust opened well, as they had in the previous game. Even with the crowd against them, B-Hop was outstanding out of the gates. Bill Bent (Armadillo, PG) had nothing to defend B-Hop with, allowing the bunny baller to drive inside play after play. But in this series, that means facing off against the mink towers. But Kruegar played well, screening off Melbourne and Haber with her big body, giving Hopper tiny spaces to work-- which is all the bunny needed. B-Hop led his team into a scoring run to end the quarter up. But in the second, when the Firestorm have done well, the team actually slowed down as St. Peter used his big paws to hassle Gerry Cross (Mink, SF), taking away a valuable scoring option for the team. Erich Haber (Mink, C) remained dominant over the shorter, slower Cletus Swinton (Pig, C), but Doral totally contained the 2 guard position, severely cutting into Leonardo De Hugo's (Lion, SG) and Monty Silverthorn's (Pine Marten, G) scoring ability.

That defense broke down in the third when big dunker Joey Juloni (Leopard, G) delivered a message with a massive dunk on Doral. Despite getting hir tongue around the ball, the spotted cat just powered the rock through, catching Doral's tongue on the rim as shi was forced to release it. That left Doral having to sit down for a few minutes to rest hir tongue, but it also drove Randy Catcher (Bullfrog, G) into an angry frenzy as he hit the floor and doubled the defensive efforts against Juloni. In one dramatic fast break play, Flight 17 had outrun Catcher on the way to the cup and seemed unstoppable as he jumped from the key for a hard two-pawed slam, putting the ball behind his head-- where Catcher was able to strip it out with his tongue leaving Juloni to throw his empty paws forward for nothing but a caught rim.

The Firestorm outscored the Thrust by just a point in the third, but couldn't do it again in the fourth. With Kruegar starting, that allowed Carlos Syevens-Quiles (Calico Cat, F) and Michael Porter (Mallard, F) to hit the court later and better rested, where they were able to deliver sharp buckets from the corners and at the cup. In the end, the Sauce pulled off a much-needed miracle, winning their first game in the series, though they remain behind 2-1 after the 6 point win.

--------------------------
NEWS: Rumors are coming out that Rebel Coyote (Coyote, F, BAL) of the Baltimore Spirits has been seen participating in MMA training programs. While nothing has been substantiated, the FBA has strict policies against players under FBA contract from participating in activities that could potentially injure them.

Rebel Coyote, however, is about to have his FBA contract expire at the end of this season. Some have speculated the canine-- known for his aggressive tactics on the court-- may be considering a different sport.

Thursday, July 21st - 2011 FBA FINALS
FBA
buckhopper
COMMISSIONER'S NOTE:

Hey there, FBA Fans!

I owe everyone a big apology here. I know I've been super quiet this week, and I feel awful about it. I can't believe how busy this week has been-- with work and other commitments... I feel terrible that here we are in the last series of the season, and I'm struggling to find time to post everything. I'm sorry about this. For now, I'm going to get the scores out to get things updated, and I'll try my hardest to get some capsules out. As always, the writing is the big time sink in all this, but I do have some big plans for this series, so... I'll just try to do my best to work around all the things happening right now.

Thank you for your patience and understanding.

---------------------------

SUMMARY:

LOR @ STA: W #4 Firestorm (53-27) 103, L #2 Thrust (62-18) 91 (LOR leads 2-0)

------------------------------
INJURIES:
No one injured.
--------------------------
BOX SCORES:
TBA

-------------------------
CAPSULES:

LOR | 21 32 27 23 | W 103
@STA | 25 21 22 23 | L 91

Bill Bent (Armadillo, PG) is not a typical point guard. But he's never tried to be.

The Texas-born armadillo had trouble fitting in from the start when his family relocated to Southern California. Young Billy had no trouble settling into the arid sands surrounding Victorville, but it was difficult to make friends among the local coyotes, foxes, rabbits and rattlers. In a touching interview he gave to Furballer magazine, he spoke of his trouble fitting in, being teased for his curled armored back, which soon earned him the nickname he's carried into his career, "Bent Armor".

It was a school counselor who suggested young Bill try sports as a way to make friends. It's unlikely that counselor had thought he should try basketball, being that Bill was only six feet tall and weighed over 200 pounds. And without a doubt, he didn't look anything like a typical baller when he tried out for the club. But a sympathetic coach tried him anyway and was rewarded when he found a peculiar thing about the short, squat, armored Bent. Even though he could never play anything but guard at his height, his armored back made him nearly impenetrable posting up. It was a strange strategy that threw out the book on standard basketball, but it was something that Bent could do.

And do well. Driven by his desire to fit in and impress his peers, young Bent worked hard to make his unusual game work. He hit the weights hard to strengthen his short arms until he could snap out passes with rocket speed and precision. He worked his legs to push back defenders from the post up, and when he learned how to pivot out quickly combined with his crisp, rocket passing, he ended his high school years having set a school record for assists.

Bent didn't hide the fact that UCLA almost certainly wanted him more to satisfy a species quota than for his basketball skills-- but either way, it got him in the door. And the armadillo refused to slow down as he took his time on their basketball team seriously, working hard to keep his unusual game effective, no matter how much the coaches struggled to figure out his style. In the end, it was enough. By the time he graduated, he was one of the top point guards the school had ever graduated, having reached near record assists in his games. And that was enough to get him picked up by the Tucson Demons in the 2002 FBA Draft.

Bill Bent was a perfect reserve point. With his exotic playing style, he could change the pace of a game quickly and mix up an opponent's strategy when needed. There was no doubt from the start that he was FBA material, but with his unusual reliance on the post up move and his lack of fundamentals, he seemed destined to stay deep on the bench. That was until Delenna Dresden (Ferret) put her sights on him.

The ferret had a reputation for building unique teams, the strongest example being the all-mink front court she built with Erich Haber (Mink, C), Aisha Melbourne (Mink, PF) and Gerry Cross (Mink, SF). But her eye for unconventional lineups extended to the back court when Bent's contract with the Demons expired and the Firestorm quickly offered him a big contract-- not to play in reserve-- but to start.

And that's where this kid from the desert continues to play his unique brand of furry basketball.

The team is lucky to have him against the Thrust. Randy Catcher (Bullfrog, PG) has made himself a reputation as one of the strongest defending guards in the league. But even his webbed paws and long tongue couldn't get around Bent's wide shell as Bill confidently brought the ball up and past the arc in play after play. With the Thrust finding themselves having to double-team Bent to put pressure on the ball, that gave Leonardo De Hugo (Lion, SG), Monty Silverthorn (Pine Marten, G) and Joey Juloni (Leopard, G) space to work. While none of those guys could offer much defense against the always stellar Buck Hopper (Rabbit, SG), who did drill home some of the night's most amazing shots, it was enough to keep supporting the dominant Firestorm front court, especially in the second quarter when Lorain just punished the Thrust in front of their own fans.

It was an ugly showing in the second when Peter Conner (Cougar, PF) couldn't seem to buy a bucket against the swift swatting paws of Aisha Melbourne and Cletus Swinton (Pig, C) found himself in early foul trouble as he struggled to score against the speedy Erich Haber. With Gerry Cross hitting an amazing 80% of his shots in the first half and the shooting guard position having a hey-dey against the distracted Hopper who kept having to double-team Bent, the Firestorm took control and never let go. Coming out of halftime, they continued to dominate the floor to the end as a wailing crowd watched their Thrust lose a second match at home.

With the Firestorm 2-0 in the series and the next three games in the Fireplace, the analysts have been in agreement. "It just looks like the Thrust don't have an answer to this team," one reporter said in a furry sports radio show. "The minks are just too tall, Bent is just too hard to defend, they've got too much strength coming off the bench-- it's heartbreaking to watch, but it looks like for all the trading the Thrust did to build this team, it's just not enough to take the prize."

Tuesday, July 19 - 2011 FBA FINALS
FBA
buckhopper
NEWS: (Written by :iconsteviemaxwell:)

Waiting in the Wings
by Patrick Suarez

"I'm sure he'd be proud, no matter how the Finals finish up."

That quote from Bruce Bounder (Hare, G, RMY) two years ago was echoed today in Bowling Green, Ohio, in a brief interview with the mother of Ian Histon (Leopard, G, LOR) in one of the local newspapers. Both furs were referring to the influential family members that Buck Hopper (Rabbit, G, STA) and Histon had lost during their FBA careers -- the lapine's uncle and the feline's father -- and to whom these players have dedicated their games. But only one of those two FBA stars will emerge victorious from this series; the other will have to try again next year.

No one can deny that their two teams, with the second-best records in their respective conferences, deserve to be in the Finals. While the Stanislaus Thrust had the 2009 championship denied by a buzzer-beating Game 7 shot off Xavier Knutten's (Squirrel, G/F, HNT) paws, this year it was Doral (Gecko, G/F, STA) with a tongue-tip in Game 7 of the Semifinals to finish off the reigning champion Bikers and bring the Finals back to California. On the other side of this year's Finals matchup, Lorain had their recent runs at the playoffs cut short of the Finals, last year by the lower-seeded Biloxi Mudpuppies in a five-game upset during the first round while two years ago the higher-seeded Pride bested them in six games during the Quarterfinals. This year, the Firestorm proved their worth by coming back from 2-3 to upset the top-seeded Baltimore Spirits in the Quarterfinals and getting their revenge against Newark through another grueling seven game victory in the Semifinals.

The Healy Davis trophy and the award crew have already set up at the Fireplace for a potential series-ending Game 4 on Monday or Game 5 next Wednesday, since the Finals will start at Rabbit Valley Pavilion in Modesto, California. And while they'll be waiting in the wings for the eventual champions, two other furs that have been waiting in the wings have probably already shared a proud smile as they watch their two boys play in the biggest game of their lives.

Patrick Suarez (Jackal) is a reporter for FBA News and a correspondent for Furballer magazine.

--------------------------------

SUMMARY:

LOR @ STA: W #4 Firestorm (53-27) 91, L #2 Thrust (62-18) 90 (LOR leads 1-0)

------------------------------
INJURIES:
No one injured.
--------------------------
BOX SCORES:
TBA

-------------------------
CAPSULES:

LOR | 23 23 22 23 | W 91
@STA | 27 19 28 16 | L 90

Well. This started with a bang.

The Rabbit Valley Pavilion roared from the noise of a sold out crowd, easily dwarfing the humble crowd that used to fill the Bull Palace of old, where the Stanislaus Thrust played their first ever finals appearance. Using the money from those sold out games, team owner Foo-Foo was able to complete Alpo Arena ahead of schedule, and while the Thrust missed a chance at the Finals in its inaugural year, no one seems to upset that it only took 2 years for one of the newest venues in the FBA to host a championship series.

And no one could imagine a finer place. With its plush, comfortable seating, massive LED jumbotron, and state-of-the-art lighting and air conditioning, the RVP welcomed a much larger crowd convinced to make the trip to Modesto, California for this thrilling Finals series. It trip here couldn't have been more exciting-- with both Conference Finals going to 7 games, the Thrust and the Firestorm were fortunate to have made it to this match. Though neither of them said it had anything to do with fortune.

The Thrust nearly threw out their entire roster to rebuild the team around their superstar Buck Hopper (Rabbit, SG). Only Doral (Gecko, SF) and Chrys Brachy (Maned Wolf, C) had been with the club two years ago when the franchise had their first ever Finals appearance. Back then, Doral was just a rookie having a simply magical first season complete with the first of 2 Defensive Player of the Year Awards, and Brachy was a young athlete offering little more than height to the team. The players that have come to form the new face of the Thrust-- Randy Catcher (Bullfrog, PG), Peter Conner (Cougar, PF), Cletus Swinton (Pig, C), Carlos Syevens-Quiles (Calico Cat, F)-- had all been new pickups from the draft or from trades. The heroes of two seasons ago-- Jakub Lyška (Red Fox, G, WIL), Jack Howell (Wolf, F, KCC), Billy Joe James (Mule, C, BAL) and Paul Teronura (Otter, C, TEN)-- had all been sent away to other teams. Except for one.

Manuel Katz (Tabby cat, Assistant Coach) may have hung up his jersey on the rafters high above, but the big cat remained on his team's sideline in his new role. And while the FBA legend didn't dribble a ball or fire a shot all season, his team was clear. "We're here because of Manny," B-Hop told a reporter before the game. "Manny got us to the Finals last time. He got us here this time, too."

On the other side, the Firestorm weren't able to claim the drama of reaching for their first trophy-- the team had won their second title back in 2002. But only one player on the team could remember that championship run. Raccoon forward Quentin Ramsey, Jr. (Raccoon, F, deep reserve) had been a rising star in the 2001-2002 season, hitting some clutch shots to keep his team alive in the playoffs all the way to the title. But when he broke his wrist and arm after a hard landing, his shooting was never the same again. Still, he recovered and remained a part of the team, changing the focus of his game to passing and setting screens. But as the years wore on, his game became less and less valuable until today, when he sits in deep reserve in the team, having seen almost no floor time at all this season. Still, as he sits with his fellow players wearing that ring he won back in 2002, he has to be inspiring this new generation of athletes.

That new generation belongs to superstar Erich Haber (Mink, C) who has been the leader of one of the most unique teams in the league. With their towering mink starting line, the Lorain don't look anything like the a typical FBA team. But coupled with their incredible set of guards, the club has proven that you don't have to follow the pack to be a champion.

The same could be said for the other side. Last year's Bikers vs. Taproots matchup spelled out a different message. It said that fundamentals were key to victory. With two of the most complete and unselfish teams in the league facing each other-- the defense-minded Bikers against the star-less Taproots-- it would have been easy to think that the only way to win in the FBA is to play by the book. But neither Don Von Wasser (Dolphin) nor Delenna Dresden (Ferret) have ever played by the book. Von Wasser has been famous from the start of his career for going after unusual talent that everyone else was afraid to use. That eye brought him Doral-- an unusual and utterly unconventional player that can't dribble, can barely pass, and seems to think of nothing but sex off the court-- and he turned the gecko into one of the most ferocious defensive powers in FBA history. That eye also gave him the idea of bringing on Conner and Swinton-- two of the most opposing personalities anyone could imagine-- and making them work together to form one deadly front court. And Dresden's willingness to experiment and go off the page brought her the unstoppable Gerry Cross (Mink, SF) / Aisha Melbourne (Mink, PF) / Erich Haber lineup. It brought her Bill Bent (Armadillo, PG)-- a species few thought could compete in professional basketball-- who turned out to be one of the most reliable point guards in the conference. It gave her the eye to spot a chance at snatching Monty Silverthorn (Pine Marten, G), the #1 draft pick from 2008 and a perfect compliment to Bent's slower style. And it gave her local hero Ian Histon (Leopard, G), a late draft pick who scared off others with his beaded hair and odd choice in clothing (I'm talking about the kilts. --ed.), who proved himself one of the hardest-working, most dedicated young athletes in the game today.

When the analysts were asked to pick a winner, it was 50-50. They only agreed on one thing-- that anyone could win.

When the play began, the issues the Thrust faced began to form. It was clear with their towering minks, the Firestorm were going to control the paint, and they did. Conner and Swinton struggled to make baskets, forcing the Thrust to take the game outside. That suited Hopper just fine who absolutely took over in the first, zipping past his opponents, easily leaving Bent and Leonardo De Hugo (Lion, SG) in his dust as he charged the cup, then threw the defense with brilliant cuts and hesitation shots. With Hopper taking over, the Thrust took an early lead, but when the bunny took a rest in the second, it was clear the Firestorm had the advantage. With steady, regular scoring, they hammered the Thrust with their defense and ended the half scraping the deficit down to 1.

After the halftime rest, Hopper hit the court again for the third-- always his favorite quarter. Lucky Number 7 once again carried his team and he made his own shots and kept sinking the rock while his teammates struggled. The Sauce got a boost when Michael Porter (Mallard, F) hit the floor to work the corners and Carlos Syevens-Quiles (Calico Cat, F) helped spread out the Lorain D and make some big dunks over Gerry Cross. But mostly, the hard work was being done by the team's superstar with B-Hop ripping apart the court, taking over the hard wood. He brought the lead back to 7 points.

The crowd cheered going into the fourth, expecting their Thrust to win. They had held on to the lead for the entire game without ever letting the Firestorm once overtake them. But Hopper was forced to rest, having had to play his hardest to work around the suffocating Lorain defense. As the bunny rested, the team struggled again, with Haber hitting all of his turnaround and hook shots and Ian Histon brilliantly using his fast paws to get space from Randy Catcher and hit big shots. The Firestorm slowly scraped at the lead a bit at a time for the entire quarter until they were just 1 point down with seconds left on the clock. The Thrust put Hopper back in and the bunny waited out the clock, letting it run. With the shot clock still on, he had to shoot as it came to the finals seconds, but his exhausted arms made him miss the cup entirely, resulting in a shot clock violation and turnover. With possession and just a few seconds to steal it, the Firestorm brought the ball up quick. With Catcher and Doral on the floor, the 'Storm knew they had to get the ball inside and they did. In a simply brilliant move, Bent got a screen from Histon to get an open passing lane to Haber. Haber ran at the cup from the baseline, drawing the double team. And when the mink jumped, he blind-passed behind himself to Melbourne, who was wide open for the midrange look and drilled home the buzzer-beating shot for the last deuce of the night and stealing the win by 1.

This most certainly started off with a bang.

---------------------------
NEWS: Brandon Hess (Clydesdale Horse, C, TEN) officially announced his retirement from the FBA in a solemn press conference held this morning. The 7 foot 3 pivot from St. Louis, MO ended his 12-season career earlier this year when he shattered his leg coming down for a rebound in a game against the Spectrums.

"I spoke with all the doctors I could," the big horse told reporters as he slumped, big hands on the table with fingers laced together. "I kept looking for a way to get back into the game. But after my leg healed and all the physical therapy, I just couldn't move the way I had. I thought maybe if I waited the year out, I could come back, but it just wasn't in the cards for me."

Hess, who goes by the nickname Budweiser both for his resemblance to the mascots of Anheuser-Busch and his preferred beer, has played with the Moonshiners for most of his FBA career, where his appearance made him a natural fit in the brewery-owned club. A longtime backup to franchise player Cletus Swinton (Pig, C), the big horse's powerful body but slow hooves kept him from starting many games in his career. Still, his good looks and mellow temperament made him a strong foil to Swinton's big voice and brash style. Despite never making regular starter for the team, he's never complained.

"Only thing I ever wanted was for our team to do well," he said at the end of the conference. "And to see us win the division is the best goodbye gift I could get."

---------------------------
NEWS: Katashi Kappa (Turtle, F, GAL) has announced his intention to leave the FBA once his contract ends at the end of the current season. He wrote on his Twitter account that he had accepted a contract with the Chinese Basketball Association of Furries and will be playing in their coming season.

"I realize now, I must be with my family," he explained to FBA blogger T. Matt Latrans who contacted him earlier today. Kappa received an emergency leave from the Galveston Sand Dollars when a 9.0 earthquake hit the coast of Japan in March, triggering a tsunami that pounded the East Coast of the country. "I am honored to have played in the FBA. And I am honored to have played for Tennessee and for Galveston. But I am too far from home. I will miss this league very much."

Kappa has remained in Japan since receiving his emergency leave and will likely not need to return to the States for his retirement.

Sunday, July 17th - PLAYOFFS, SEMI-FINALS
FBA
buckhopper
COMMISSIONER'S NOTE:

Hey there, FBA fans!

First off, if you haven't already, please wish a very HAPPY BIRTHDAY to the GM of the soon-to-be BANGOR Bantams, FBA contributor :iconkatalina:!

The season is almost over-- now just one more Finals series. So everyone knows, the teams will get a one day break, then Game 1 of the Finals will begin on Tuesday, July 19th. Good luck to the teams!

----------------------------

SUMMARY:

NWK @ LOR: L #6 Pride (40-40) 95, W #4 Firestorm (53-27) 102 (LOR wins in 7)

------------------------------
INJURIES:
No one injured.
--------------------------
BOX SCORES:
TBA

-------------------------
CAPSULES:

NWK | 26 22 20 27 | L 95
@LOR | 24 27 22 29 | W 102

Coaches love to say it. In order to win at basketball, you have to want to win.

So, which of these teams wants it more?

For some, it's no surprise that these two clubs have pushed the series to seven games. The desire and the talent on both is incredibly strong. Most analysts had predicted the Newark Pride to make the Conference Finals as they had the last two years. But when Lance Freewell (Clouded Leopard, C) went down with a serious leg injury, just about everyone had crossed the team off their list. And yet, here they were again. There can be no doubt-- the Pride want that title.

But losing Pretty for 55 games wasn't without a price. The team had snuck into the playoffs, dropping in at #6 with a 40-40 record. If they had had Freewell those 55 games, many believe they could have stuffed the poorly-performing Alphas and Bantams, and possibly stolen the division from the Taproots. Had they won the division and gotten that Top 3 ranking, they would have seeded above the Firestorm who were outstanding this season, but only held back by sharing their division with the simply electric Baltimore Spirits.

And it's because of their lower seed that the Pride failed to take home advantage and Game 7 is in Ohio.

Those who read my blog know that while I make my career covering furry sports, I enjoy watching human sports as well. And to anyone who follows the NBA, you know that Northern Ohio is a region with a special basketball history. When local hero LeBron James (Human, F, NBA:MIA) gave up his Cavalier jersey for a better shot at the chip with the Miami Heat, he left behind a traumatized fan base. And when the Cavaliers finished the season at the very bottom of the league standings having set new records for games lost in a row, the pain ran deep. While those fans got a nice dose of Schadenfreude when the Mavericks stole the trophy from the Heat in the NBA Finals, the pain was still there. And it's with that history in mind that the furries of Northern Ohio cling to their unconventional basketball team that might look funny with all its tall minks, its female head coach and its armadillo point guard-- but they win games. And just might make it to the big dance. In a land where hope is a rare commodity, the Firestorm are giving it away for free.

And they want that title. Their town needs that title.

And they've got home advantage.

The Pride have some of their own advantages. Buck Hopper (Rabbit, G, STA) arrived in Ohio early this morning fresh off his victory in Sturgis for the Thrusts' second Finals appearance in three years. With a shot at getting his team's first franchise title, the bunny was clearly excited. But he didn't come to the game just to see who he would face when the 2011 FBA Finals began on Tuesday. He came to support his girlfriend, Pride superstar Valencia Zeraus (Lioness, PG) in her third Conference Finals appearance, fighting for her first League Finals appearance.

Immediately the announcers noted that B-Hop had not secured a floor seat right next to the Pride bench, but rather a lower bowl seat a few chairs up. When asked, assistant coach Phillip Clay Tacuri (Panther) confirmed that was intentional. "The team didn't want B-Hop yelling advice at them all game," he said, referring to a previous match where B-Hop spent nearly the whole game coaching from his seat. "And by 'team' I mean Val."

Still, Hopper did get floor access during warmups and was seen giving his girlfriend a good luck kiss before she went back into the tunnels. She would need it.

The first quarter of play quickly turned into tit-for-tat scoring as the two clubs kept it neck-and-neck, with no team getting more than a 4 point lead. Both clubs showed excellent ingenuity on the floor, getting everyone involved and showing just how solid their playbooks were. While Theodore Sanftner (Prairie Dog, SG) became the scoring leader on the floor after the first quarter, that was only because he hit the final buzzer-beating shot from midrange to put his team up by 2. Immediately behind him, the Queen, Erich Haber (Mink, C) and Leonardo De Hugo (Lion, SG) all had tied for second place. Things got a little bleaker in the second when the Firestorm hit a 14-5 scoring stride, spreading out the deficit and taking control of the game. But then Val did what she does and started to take over, using the give-and-go and pick-and-pop to get her teammates to put her in good position for open looks. But while the Pride concentrated on getting Val to the cup, the 'Storm kept up their variety of shots, working around the Newark defense and getting buckets off the paws of Gerry Cross (Mink, SF), Aisha Melbourne (Mink, PF) and Ian Histon (Leopard, G).

Melbourne hit the last shot of the half, sinking a baseline jumper at the buzzer to give the 'Storm a 3-point lead. In a difficult decision for head official Ralph Gayle (Cardinal), after the buzzer, Melbourne went up to the crowd and waved, calling out to B-Hop. That made Val get jealous and shove the tall mink. Normally that would have resulted in a technical, but since play had stopped, Gayle determined he couldn't levy any punishment after the teams stepped in to separate the two. An online blogger noted that B-Hop shortly tweeted after the event, "@valzeraus28 you my only girl. Srs dont know what up with Aisha"

When gameplay started again, Val returned to her aggressive play. But it was clear that was becoming a liability as the 'Storm wisely double-teamed her, forcing her into difficult shots. After a timeout was called, head coach Raymond Page Leddy (Leopard) laid into his star point guard, demanding she get the others into the game. That ended with Val riding the pine for a bit while Rosemary Swinton (Doberman, G) took her place, distributing more to the rest of the team.

In a series that has featured a few blowouts, it became clear that this game would be a grind. The Pride played great and stayed with the Firestorm for most of the match, but couldn't quite catch up. In fact, it became a slow bleed as the Storm gradually spread the deficit with fundamentals-driven, organized play that somehow never got flashy. When Val did return to the court and do her best to cut the lead, it was clear time was running out. As the clock wound down to its final minute with the home team still up by 5 and the home crowd cheering at the top of their lungs, Val was visibly trembling when she was forced to intentionally foul Bill Bent (Armadillo, PG). Bent was perfect from the line, keeping his team ahead, and while Theodore Sanftner (Prairie Dog, SG) did drill home a clutch 3 in the final minute to give his club a glimmer of hope, that died when he missed his next shot while the 'Storm never missed at the stripe.

When the clock finally ran out, the crowd erupted into cheers as the Lorain Firestorm were on their way to their first Finals appearance in 9 years. The Pride hung their heads as they headed back to the tunnels, having lost their 3rd Conference Finals series in a row. Buck Hopper was seen heading toward the floor, calling out to Val. At first she looked away and growled-- but then looked back and let B-Hop hug her. After a moment she hugged back.

A fan sent a photo to Twitter showing Val resting her head on B-Hop's shoulder as they two embraced at the entrance to the tunnel. Val has a tear in her eye. The fan captioned the photo with the message "Sometimes losing is beautiful."
----------------------------------
THE 2011 FBA FINALS

Tuesday, July 19th

Lorain Firestorm @ Stanislaus Thrust

Saturday, July 16th - PLAYOFFS, SEMI-FINALS
FBA
buckhopper
COMMISSIONER'S NOTE:

Big apologies for the delay on this one. I know you've all been waiting for these results. And tonight's!

-----------------------------

SUMMARY:

STA @ DAK: W #2 Thrust (62-18) 109, L #1 Bikers (67-13) 106 (STA wins in 7)

------------------------------
INJURIES:
No one injured.
--------------------------
BOX SCORES:
TBA

-------------------------
CAPSULES:

STA | 31 23 28 27 | W 109
@DAK | 34 21 24 27 | L 106

FBA fans who tuned in to watch tonight's Game 7 on television were treated to something special and surprising.

Padz, a furry athletic footwear and footcare company, ran a one-shot commercial before tipoff featuring Thrust star Buck Hopper (Rabbit, SG), who has an endorsement deal with the company.

In it, B-Hop sits naked and alone in a darkened locker room. As the camera slowly pushes toward him, he looks at the floor as his voice runs over the scene in a monologue.

"I'm not ready. How could I be? I had every chance to stop this. I could have blocked that shot. I could have made one more bucket. I can't put on my jersey like this. I don't deserve to wear it. The only way I could put it on is if I could face that crowd out there, jeering me, hating on me, reminding me how I've failed. I could only put it on if I forgot about every shot I missed and every game I lost, forgot about collapsing on this court even with every voice reminding me. I could only put it on if I could forgive myself, and under those waves of hate out there give my team every little thing I've got."

With the camera then in a full closeup of B-Hop's face, he looks up straight at the camera. He says, "Now I'm ready" then walks off, leaving the Padz logo behind him.

It was easy to imagine the ad being true. B-Hop shortly afterwards came out onto the court to a hissing, spitting sold-out crowd. Dakota fans were at their worst, with some holding up signs with pictures of B-Hop writhing and grabbing his knee on the Sturgis Stadium floor, a grim reminder of the last time Hopper had to face the Bikers in a game that meant everything for this team. Only this time, the game meant everything for the Bikers as well, driving the crowd further to be that real sixth fur and support their hometown in any way possible.

In the biggest game in the Western Conference this season, both sides looked focused and tuned, knowing everything was on the line. And that made B-Hop's preparations even more surprising. When he pulled out his carrot juice from the team cooler-- a tradition he's held since his rookie year before every game-- he didn't open it. Instead, he signed the bottle then handed it to a young rabbit boy sitting in one of the floor seats with his mother. The boy eagerly took it despite wearing a jersey for Ryan Malone (Kangaroo, SG). A reporter managed to ask him about it before tipoff, but Lucky Number 7 was enigmatic. "I met that kid before. He did a lot for me," he said before walking away from the mic.

Hopper's teammates must have been concerned about B-Hop breaking a game tradition he's held for years. He's only failed to drink his carrot juice a handful of times before a game-- usually when his cousin Bruce Bounder (Hare, G, WPG) drinks it first or one time when a new team assistant forgot to pack it. Still, Hopper called a team huddle and gave them a pep talk which included another apology to his teammate Doral (Gecko, SF), whose sensitivity over a thoughtless remark has made many wonder if it could lead to the team's undoing. A similar huddle on the Dakota side saw Malone taking a different tack, pumping up his team and leading them in a group jump. When the two clubs lined up for the tipoff, everything was all business.

There are those sports fans who criticize basketball for being totally uninteresting until the final minutes of the game. Those guys should have watched this first half. In some of the most thrilling basketball to open up a game, both teams were on fire. With every player on the move, bucket after bucket was made with every starter scoring at least once. Ryan Malone was the early scoring leader for his team, further taking advantage of his high vertical and size advantage over Hopper to put up quick jumpers. But B-Hop didn't let his shorter stature slow him down at all as the bunny punished Malone with lightspeed crossovers and deadly screens. In one brilliant play, the bunny got a pick from Doral, but instead of running past hir, he hesitated and changed direction, forcing Malone to redirect as well-- then redirected again and scraped by Doral, making Skywalker stumble on his big feet and crash into the gecko. That would have been nasty enough, but Hopper finished with a disgusting double-clutch at the rim, going up for the dunk over Jack Wayans (Black Labrador, PF) but then redirecting mid-air and hooking in a layup off the glass.

That was just one of the amazing plays in the score-filled first quarter. Randy Catcher (Bullfrog, PG) snagged his first career 4-point play when Dat Mongoste (Mongoose, PG) slapped his arm on a 3-point attempt-- and the frog still tickled twine. In a show of just how hot the emotions were running, as he lined up for the free throw, Doral gave his rear a grope-- which has been customary between the two-- but Dig 'Em stepped it up by giving the gecko a deep kiss back. That got a warning from the officiating crew-- headed up by Stevie Maxwell (Panda) called away from the Vernon Hill investigation after Game 6's ugly play-- but no technical. And Mike Lee (Puma, SF) pumped up the crowd when he got a lightspeed pass across the key from BlackJack, forcing Peter Conner (Cougar, PF) to turn around just in time to get knocked down by a ferocious dunk from the smaller feline. Lee drew a whistle on the play, but was no good from the stripe. Still, his team managed to squeak out a 3-point lead at the end of a brutal first quarter.

The Bikers hide their real defenders on the bench, and Doug Bentham (Weasel, G), Tyron Stricker (Porcupine, F) and Toby Papanastasopoulos (Skunk, F) quickly turned the second quarter into the first's ugly cousin. First, Spike got lucky when a block attempt left Carlos Syevens-Quiles (Calico Cat, F) with two painful quills in his nose-- the officials decided the contact was incidental after some debate and didn't call a foul. Then Dirty Doug tripped Mary Wooten (Sheep, F) into the media table on what eventually was called a reach-in foul. And Papa Nasty swatted at Doug Smith (Coyote, G) with his bushy tail as the coyote went in for a lay-up attempt. That was deemed a blocking foul, putting the young canine at the line, where he missed both shots while facing a hostile Dakota crowd. But the ugliest play happened when Malone furthered the grudge between him and B-Hop by using a fast break attempt to bowl over the bunny and throw him into the photographers. A replay showed that Malone had actually kicked Hopper in the head on the way up to the hoop, using his foot to keep B-Hop from defending and shoving the bunny hard into the crowd. Play stopped for a few minutes as trainers looked over B-Hop who did not immediately get up, leading the crowd into mixed jeers and concerned silence, remembering the last time the bunny collapsed on the Sturgis court. After some time, Hopper did get to his feet and made it back to the bench under his own power.

With Hopper sitting, the Thrust answered back with tough defense. Cletus Swinton (Pig, C) was brilliant in positioning his body to pressure Dakota's shots. And he proved his strength when he took a charge from Steven Munt (Warthog, C)-- and didn't even budge when the hog slammed into his body. P-Con got the block of the night when rookie Fritz Jansen (Paint Horse, G) put up a floater from under the hoop-- and the big cougar swatted the ball so hard, it flew right at head coach Don Von Wasser (Dolphin) who narrowly missed the ball. Assistant coach Manuel Katz (Tabby cat) was not so lucky when the ball smacked the water in Von Wasser's tank and splashed over the cat. Play stopped for a dry ball to be brought to the court and a towel to be handed to the very unhappy-looking Katz. The ferocious Thrust D held the Bikers back and kept the scoring tied up on the quarter-- until Hopper came back onto the floor. The crowd hissed as the bunny took point and dribbled up the ball in the final seconds with Malone defending. Twice Hopper paused to rub at his knee, the bunny limping part of the way-- but when Malone took the jeering crowd's advice and reached to poke the rock, Hopper spun around the 'roo with ease, even taking the time to look back at him. With a wide-open lane, B-Hop revealed his limping to be a ruse as he yet rocket speed at the cup. Munt stepped in to take the charge, but B-Hop got so much lift, he had his crotch against the warthog's forehead when he reached out to slam the ball down the drain. That got the Thrust bench to their feet as the half ended and the Sauce scraped the deficit to a single point.

After the halftime show, the Thrust kept the momentum going. In the first half of the quarter, they dominated over the Bikers, going on a 12-3 run that gave them their first lead of the game be a solid margin. Dakota was forced to take two timeouts to try to break up the Sauce's scoring run, but it wasn't until Dat Mongoste drilled home back-to-back three pointers from his spot on the floor that the Bikers started to find their rhythm again. The Thrust almost stole it back when Carlito showed his way by getting a vengeance dunk on Stricker-- the calico was in the corner when he took a kick from Hopper and ran inside from the baseline, going up and turning around to throw his back up against Stricker's muzzle and finishing with an amazing two-pawed reverse dunk that left the porcupine holding his own nose. But the Bikers hammered the deficit back down to 3 points, though the Sauce got their first lead to end a quarter.

The crowd could have been foaming at the mouth for the fourth quarter as the tension got white hot. Despite the brutal play on both sides, there had been little confrontation outside of the game up to that point-- no doubt because of warnings issued by the FBA that brought Stevie Maxwell and his officiating crew to the floor. But in the first two minutes of the fourth, an aggressive reach-in by Malone on B-Hop got the bunny to shove his nose into the roo's muzzle. That set off the powder keg as the other players quickly surrounded the pair, half trying to separate them, half trying to get into the fight themselves. One camera caught Doug Smith jumping up from the bench to join the fray, but Mary Wooten smartly grabbed the coyote, keeping him back. (For those who don't know, leaving the bench and entering the playing surface is grounds for an immediate technical foul. --ed.) It took two minutes for the officials to separate the bodies and get play started again, but they were right back at it a minute later when Like Dat was caught on a clawing penalty against Catcher, leading Doral to shove the mongoose. That gave technicals to both sides, and when the clock ran again, everyone could see the hate on the court. Hopper and Malone especially seethed as the pair fired up the floor, returning to their first quarter theatrics and throwing down some of the most amazing buckets of the night.

As the game spiraled into a ferocious tit-for-tat game of back-and-forth scoring, the Bikers tied it up with a minute left on the clock. The crowd stood on their feet as Catcher brought up the ball, closely guarded by Mongoste. After letting the clock run down a bit, Catcher swing passed to St. Peter, who passed inside to Swinton, but swift defense from Mike Lee swatted the rock out of the pig's hands. Lee wrapped up the ball as the Thrust scrambled for it, but the puma called timeout to keep possession. Now with control and plenty of time to score, the crowd cheered for the Bikers to sink the dagger.

Malone put the ball into play, passing to Mongoste who waited at the arc. After a slow dribble, protecting the ball from Catcher's tongue, he popped the rock up as Malone rushed in for an alley-oop attempt. In a defensive move that only Doral could do, the gecko went up from behind Malone and reached out with a sticky paw, stripping the rock from his hands from right over the hoop. The ball smacked the glass and bounced back into play where Catcher made the rebound and quickly passed up court to the rushing Hopper. B-Hop went at the cup hard with Papa Nasty following. The skunk wasn't able to catch up, but as Hopper went up for the cup, TP borrowed a move from Dat Mongoste and grabbed Hopper's ears, yanking his head back. Hopper cried out but threw the ball up at the cup even as he twisted back in the air-- and the rock banked off the glass and in. Stevie immediately threw Papa Nasty from the game and awarded Hopper the extra point, which he sank after being checked out by team trainers, giving them back a 3-point lead.

With only seconds left and the crowd screaming for a miracle, both teams went over final strategy. All the starters went in as hearts raced. Mongoste inbound to Malone, who hanged out at the arc, glaring at the defending B-Hop. Like Dat then rushed inside and ran a curl around Munt, which picked off Catcher and forced Swinton to follow the mongoose. But Dat used his swift feet to get to his spot on the floor, the same spot he had earlier sunk his back-to-back 3 balls. Malone passed to Mongoste who lined up for the tying shot. Hopper lunged to defend, but Dat brilliantly pump-faked. Hopper flew past and landed on his side, looking back at the mongoose helplessly from the floor. Dat went up in the final seconds, firing off the perfect-form long ball-- which was then tipped by Doral's tongue as the gecko reached out across the court to stop the shot during its upward motion.

The buzzer sounded. The scoreboard froze. The Thrust won by 3.

The crowd screamed in horror as Dat roared at Stevie Maxwell, demanding a shooting penalty-- one he would not get. Malone held his head as he looked around in disbelief. Hopper jumped to his feet and hugged Doral, one of only 2 other teammates who had played with the bunny in the franchise's first ever Finals appearance-- now to be followed by a second.

But the hug was followed by a rush as Hopper quickly took off his jersey and handed it to the same boy he had given his juice to. He then ran into the tunnel rushing for the locker room. When a reporter asked the bunny where he was going, he yelled back without slowing down, "I gotta catch a plane to Ohio!"

Friday, July 15th - PLAYOFFS, SEMI-FINALS
FBA
buckhopper
[b]COMMISSIONER'S NOTE:[/b]

Well, it's gotten too late for me to write a capsule for tonight's game... but I did update the last two nights!

http://www.furaffinity.net/journal/2530159/

http://www.furaffinity.net/journal/2530175/

I'll try to have this written in the morning after a night's rest. I always write better in the morning!

----------------------------

[b]SUMMARY:[/b]

LOR @ NWK: L #4 Firestorm (53-27) 100, [b]W #6 Pride (40-40) 101[/b] (Series tied 3-3)

------------------------------
[b]INJURIES:[/b]
[i]No one injured.[/i]
--------------------------
[b]BOX SCORES:[/b]
TBA

-------------------------
[b]CAPSULES:[/b]

LOR | 27 23 27 23 | L 100
[b]@NWK | 31 28 21 21 | W 101[/b]

Some analysts have written that no team in the FBA more closely defends their home court than the Newark Pride. Especially when they're desperate.

With the series 2-3 in the Firestorm's favor and a win in the Asphalt Savannah the only way to stay alive, the Pride were playing with their backs to the wall. That situation was clear on the faces of some of the players, who went into warmups steely-eyed and with ears folded. Valencia Zeraus (Lioness, PG) looked especially focused-- and also especially annoyed whenever she missed a warm up shot. When a reporter asked her how she was preparing for the match, she answered, "I already did that. I'm preparing for Game 7. We're winning tonight." The reported noted there was no hesitation in her words.

Her confidence had to mask some uncertainty. For having one of the most unconventional lineups in the FBA, Lorain has made a serious impact this season. With their front court of towering minks led by the masterful Erich Haber (Mink, C), there's enough there alone to worry any opponent. But it's been clear this season that the deep and athletic back court of the team has brought up the Firestorm from curiosity to superpower. With the team led by strong, smart veterans like Bill Bent (Armadillo, PG) and Leonardo De Hugo (Lion, SG), they have the experience needed to identify defensive weaknesses and call smart plays. But it's the young, athletic slashers Ian Histon (Leopard, G), Monty Silverthorn (Pine Marten, G) and Joey Juloni (Leopard, G) coming off the bench that adds real fire to the roster. It's a head coach's dream-- a lineup where he can call up either a point-getter or a floor general at his will. Or [i]her[/i] will, in the case of Delenna Dresden (Ferret).

But there's a reason the Pride have gotten this far. While Rosemary Swinton (Doberman, G) and Faith Madiez (Rat, G) can't quite match up with Lorain's bench guards, Val overpowers all of them as easily the most complete and most dangerous guard on the court. Put together with Theodore Sanftner (Prairie Dog, SG), who was just a point away from beating league MVP Barton Rouge (Red Fox, G, BLX) in the 3-point Shootout and is easily the best long-ball shooter on this floor, and the Pride have themselves one brutal pair of starting guards. It's been a question all series-- can a pair of talented starters overcome a weaker pair but with better backup?

It's a question best left to the court. Though Val tried to answer it early as she tore into the first minutes of the game like a fresh kill. Drilling home all 8 of her team's first points, she single-handedly gave her club their first lead when Sheila Andrews (Grizzly Bear, PF) came up with a rebound and slung it far up court for the rushing Val. Having no trouble outrunning the slow-footed Bill Bent (Armadillo, PG), the lioness gathered up the rock near the arc, went up from the paint and threw down a one-pawed dunk, grabbing the rim and even doing a one-armed chin-up before dropping back down. That got the Newark crowd roaring with several fans tweeting photos of the play to her boyfriend, Thrust superstar Buck Hopper (Rabbit, G, STA).

That convinced the Firestorm to go with Skates early, but Val wasn't done as she easily became the scoring leader in the first half of the game, despite sitting down four minutes into the second quarter, exhausted-- but having punched through a stunning 26 points. She got a standing ovation from the crowd when she did sit down, leaving her team to mop up the Firestorm who would go into halftime behind by 9.

Despite the halftime break, Val did not return to open up the third. Later reports indicated she had overexerted herself in the first half and had cramping in her legs, forcing the Pride to let Swinton take point. The usual rotation started out well with Allen Sharp (Hyena, SF) and Andrews doing a good job holding back Gerry Cross (Mink, SF) and Aisha Melbourne (Mink, PF), forcing the 'Storm to keep having Haber make the plays. But things took an ugly turn when Gordon Reilly (Moose, F/C) followed Melbourne into the paint as shi drove after getting a kick from Haber. When the mink went up to drop the ball in, Reilly brought his hand up and unable to reach the rock at the top of Aisha's long arms, settled for trapping his arm around hirs and bending the whole mink back, throwing hir down onto the court. That drew a whistle leaving Reilly holding up his hands, feigning nothing and Aisha crying out, holding hir back as shi writhed on the ground. The officials then handed a double tech to Reilly, throwing him out of the game for what was determined to be a flagrant foul. The crowd protested only barely louder than Reilly-- though a sharp-witted photographer did snap a telling photo of Reilly and Val high-fiving as the moose exited the court.

With a snorting Renard Antouille (Boar, F) covering the power position for the injured Melbourne, the Firestorm hit the court with new fire. And with Lance Freewell (Clouded Leopard, C) losing his backup, he ran into difficulty, especially when Liam Armstrong (Rhinoceros, C) put his big feet on the court to overpower the fatigued feline. By quarter's end, the 'Storm shaved 6 points off their deficit.

And the other 3 soon followed. Early in the fourth, Silverthorn snapped silk with a clutch 3 from the center of the arc, taking a crisp no-look kickout from Histon. And then, with the score tied up, the 'Storm took their first lead since the opening minutes of the game when Serhan Tevetoğlu (Turkish Angora Cat, F/C) tipped in a midrange jumper from the baseline by Antouille. The Pride called a timeout after which Val returned to the floor to the wild cheers of the crowd. But it was clear the overexertion had taken its toll as she stumbled on several plays, once turning over the ball unforced and twice airing out her jump shots. Her presence, though, fired up the crowd and her team. Rookie Jarrod Frola (Cat, F) put his strong body to use when he powered through Cross' raised arms, making big contact, but still finishing with the baby hook banked off the glass. That drew a foul and the big cat was automatic at the line. The lanky Riccardo Vega (Maned Wolf, F) looked like a rag doll when he took a charge from Antouille, sending the long-limbed canine flying back. But the officials saw his set paws and handed Antouille a 4th personal. The support was welcome, but was only enough to keep swapping the lead as the 'Storm and the Pride went neck-and-neck into the final minutes.

With Freewell overtaxed and the 'Storm down by 1 in the last moments of play, Haber looked to have the best chance at stealing back the lead. But he surprised the Pride defense when he jump-passed to the weak side on a turnaround attempt, getting the ball into Histon's paws, who went up and two-pawed dunked the rock behind the backs of the defending Freewell and Andrews. The Pride called their last timeout as the crowd stood, gnawing their paws nervously. With only five seconds left, it looked at first as if Val would sit out, but she was seen snarling at her brother before insistently lined up for the inbound. She got the ball to Sanftner, who had to move close to halfcourt for it. Facing down De Hugo, the rodent struggled to get by the bigger lion until Val ran behind him for the pass, then used him for a quick screen, going past, then back again to catch De Hugo. With the clock running out the the lioness crossing the arc, the Lorain defense quickly closed in on her with a triple-team-- and with a confidence only Val can manage, she stopped near the free throw line, went up for the jump shot, and somehow threaded it through all three pairs of paws-- and swished it through the hoop to keep her team alive in the series.

Val punched the air after the successful shot. The crowd roared with victory as her teammates crowded and hugged her. In the post-game interviews, the same reporter reminded her of how confidently she said her team would win. When he asked about her thoughts on the last-second 1-point victory, she told him, "See? I was right."

--------------------------
[b]NEWS:[/b] A couple of young FBA fans got a signature from two of their favorite athletes, but not at a game, rather they got it on a sidewalk early in the morning.

Stories are coming out that last week, two furry boys in Billings, Montana got signatures from Montana Howlers players Shane Rufus (Red Wolf, G, MON) and Kwaku Bbwaddene (Jungle Wolf, F, MON).

"We were heading to the school to play," explained 9-year-old Fred Volek (Wolf) who together with friend Luther Gaghen (Badger) are basketball enthusiasts who frequent their school's court. "And while we were walking, we just saw these two wolves lying on the sidewalk."

As it turned out, the two wolves were Montana Howlers stars Rufus and Bbwaddene. "They were passed out. Luther thought they were just bums and told me to keep walking, but I told him one of them was green, and there's only one green wolf I know of in Montana. So I stopped and looked and I knew it was Fang and Blanka."

The two youths then stayed there until the pair woke up, after which they both agreed to sign the kids' basketball.

A later investigation determined that the pair had gone bar hopping the night before in celebration of Bbwaddene's selection as 2011 FBA Sixth Fur of the Year. According to bartenders, the pair were seen at several establishments, drinking shots until the doors closed. While neither Rufus nor Bbwaddene have explained why they were on the sidewalk when the boys found them, the kids have their own theory.

"They smelled like beer and junk," Gaghen explained. "And when Fang woke up, he was kind of angry. He first told us to go away, but Fred really wanted an autograph, so he signed the basketball, and then he like shook Blanka awake and told him to sign. Then they told us to leave."

"I always wanted a Fang signature," Volek grinned. "I didn't think I'd get one on the way to school."

Thursday, July 14th - PLAYOFFS, SEMI-FINALS
FBA
buckhopper
SUMMARY:

DAK @ STA: W #1 Bikers (67-13) 101, L #2 Thrust (62-18) 100 (Series tied 3-3)

------------------------------
INJURIES:
No one injured.
--------------------------
BOX SCORES:
TBA

-------------------------
CAPSULES:

DAK | 22 25 26 28 | W 101
@STA | 26 25 26 23 | L 100

If there's one thing the Bikers know how to do, it's play ugly.

And no one does it better than they do.

With their backs up against the wall, the Bikers had fought back on their own turf, coming into this game behind 2-3. But now on enemy turf, there was no room for mistakes. Head coach Kurt O'Malley (Grizzly bear) didn't sugarcoat it. "This is the tough one. If we win this game and bring Game 7 back to Sturgis, we got this series. But this is the game we have to buckle down and not make any mistakes."

For Dakota, "not make any mistakes" is code for roughing them up.

The emotions boiled on the floor from the get-go. With the California crowd cheering for team purple, it didn't take long for things to get nasty. After just four minutes of play, Hopper got Malone with a perfect spin fake, getting around the boomer and drawing a foul from him on the following dunk and one. When Hopper bumped his shoulder into the kangaroo's, he responded with a shove, then a shouting match as the pair got in each other's muzzles. No techs were called-- that would come later when Doug Bentham (Weasel, G) slapped Randy Catcher's (Bullfrog, PG) face as he went up for a shot, poking the frog's eye and putting Dig 'Em on the bench to get looked at. B-Hop sank the technical but also glared back at Bentham who was his typical unapologetic self. That tech along with a stellar late 3-ball from rookie Blythe Nacht (Red Fox [silver phase], G) put the Thrust up by 4 to end the first.

What followed after that was a vicious point-racking grind as the two teams drilled at each other fierce offensive play. Hopper, who has been good this series about sharing the ball and getting his teammates involved, saw more action in the second and third quarters as kept taking advantage of open lanes to get to the cup with layup after layup. Malone did much the same, using his big hops and powerful drive to slam inside, at one time bowling over Doral (Gecko, SF)-- a rarely seen attack against the one of the best defenders in the league. Even more rare was the gecko's response as he went back at Malone after the play, starting another shouting match that drew in more players before the officials broke it up. No techs were called-- those were saved for when Doral got some revenge against Malone by getting the kangaroo in the eye with a clearly intentionally missed tongue steal. That brought a protest from Malone to the officials who only gave Doral a reach-in call. He clearly thought it was worth it, especially when Catcher came back into play and thanked him with a spank.

The third was no less grinding than the second. After halftime, Mike Lee got called on a first level clawing penalty when he grabbed at Peter Conner (Cougar, PF) during a running layup attempt. St. Peter had to sit down to get the scratches cleaned up, giving floor time to Mary Wooten (Sheep, F), who was probably the only player that didn't end up yelling at someone by the end of the game. Steven Munt (Warthog, C) got a hand right onto Cletus Swinton's (Pig, C) face during one dunk attempt. But amazingly, even with his face covered and shoved back, Swinton reached out and disrupted the play, freeing the ball and preventing the points. That drew a huge cheer from the crowd-- but soon enough the crowd was booing when Swinton was tripped by Toby Papanastasopoulos (Skunk, F) during a transition, sending the big pig to the floor. More getting in each others' muzzles, more yelling, and more techs got called as the game ground into the final quarter with the Thrust keeping their 4 point lead.

In the final frame, the play got more ferocious as the teams leaned on their top scorers. Hopper was absolutely electric, at one time throwing Samuel Roberts (Clydesdale, C) with a brilliant pullback move under the hoop, then finishing the turnaround fade with grace. Malone was equally electric, stealing back a defensive rebound and dunking the rock in the same motion, getting a rebound, steal and points all in one play. Dat Mongoste (Mongoose, PG)-- the perfect clutch player-- showed his skills as he drilled home buckets from outside, getting his team's score to creep up on the Thrust. Nacht managed to get another 3-ball, but couldn't get his other shots to go down, though he got help from Michael Porter (Mallard, F) who found 3 points from the corner. But the Bikers still managed to creep up until another triple from Mongoste put them over the Thrust by one.

With seconds left on the clock, the Thrust drained the timer with Hopper dribbling the rock. Malone defended closely as his team ran a play. B-Hop used a fake to throw Malone, then passed inside to Conner, who posted up on Jack Wayans (Black Labrador, PF). Hopper then went at the basket, getting a screen from Doral before receiving the pass back from Conner, giving Hopper time to elevate and throw down the big dunk for the 1 point lead. The crowd roared in cheers as the Bikers called their last time out.

When play restarted, the clock had only 8 seconds left. With the shot clock off, Mongoste brought the ball up, shadowed by Catcher. Malone ran behind him for the pass back, and rushed along the arc, followed by Hopper. Doral moved in to double-team, but when Mike Lee ran to the weak side, Doral was forced to follow. That gave Malone a chance to pass to Wayans in the corner, getting B-Hop to step away from Malone, but when Wayans immediately passed back to the 'roo, Hopper lunged for the block. Malone went up with his big vertical and fired the shot from a step inside the arc over B-Hop's fingers-- the buzzer went off-- and the silk snapped as the crowd wailed out in horror.

A photo from that moment is making the rounds in the furry sports world. It shows Hopper with his ears down, hands on his head, looking up agape and horrified at the final score. Behind him, a smug Malone grins. He later told reporters what exactly he was smiling about. "I just told Hopper, see you in Sturgis."

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