Thursday, 01 October 2020 14:44 Written by Eric Stelle
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Archers Clench Cup


2027-Fore-02
2027 OBWL MVP Greg Fore led a young Archers team on an improbable run to claim the Heikkenen Cup.

 

ANAHEIM, CA - The confetti is still being picked out of hair and clothing but the result is final... the Archers have won the Heikkinen‬ Cup. It seemed improbable due to National Conference teams dominating the end of season power polls. Archers GM Eric Stelle quipped about just that when asked how his team managed to emerge victorious, "With heart, faith, and steel. In the end, there can be only one." Stelle, often overly fond of pulp quotes, went on saying, "A lot of things had to happen to get to this point and I don't think that anyone thought that the American Conference would bring it home." His remark about "a lot of things" is seen, by some, as an understatement so what follows is a recap of the improbabilites that aligned to result in the Archers winning their second championship.

One cannot start this season off without saying Greg Fore. Prior to the off season, the Archers had been firmly in rebuild mode and that plan resulted in the franchise landing it's highest draft pick in it's history. Yet, rather than take what projected to be a franchise point guard (a position coveted by the league at large), the Archers traded with the Denver Demons for a package that brought Fore to Anaheim. "He was our kind of player," said Stelle looking back on the season, "He's that special shock and awe player who can slash to the rim just as easily as he can drain a three pointer." Don McDaniel, nine years Fore's junior, spent the season in Paris where he was the second leading scorer in the league and he credited Fore's arrival with helping his game mature, "Greg [Fore] is just an incredible player. I remember watching him in the finals in '23. Dude's like my idol and stuff. Now we're in the same locker room? I'm taking advice at shoot arounds from this guy... this guy who's already at where I'm trying to be. It's inspring." Clearly Fore was inspired too because he posted career numbers in every statistical category in Anaheim's fast paced offense.

The next improbability is that the Conference frontrunners slowed a bit. Since GM Ben Johnson's arrival in Kansas City, the Pioneers have been perinneal frontrunners of the conference and division. The same can be said for Tom Lacher in Tampa Bay; however, both those teams posted seasons which paled in comparison to prior years. "I don't think that any team is immune to rebuilding/reloading and that those two stumbled (comparatively speaking of course) helped us clinch not only the division but the conference as well," Stelle pondered, "Trick is, in their 'down' or 'rebuilding' seasons, they won playoff berths which is a credit to their ability." The Archers won 60 games this season which was good enough for second overall in the league... a total which would become relevant later on in the playoffs.

On top of that, the youth core which had been assembled from the dismantling of the prior team started to come into their own. Top picks Randolph Wright and Ray Weston had improved efficency and helped support Fore's MVP year. "A lot of the weight that was on Ray [Weston] and I in the prior years was lifted when Greg [Fore] came to town. Instead of forcing the game to come to me, I let the game flow through me," said sophomore Randolph Wright, "maybe it was just the experience a year brings but we had a very hard preseason and got to know eachother's spots. Guys like Greg and Sully [Lauren Sullivan] being new to the starting lineup didn't hurt us much because we were all new too and in that mode of figuring out where the other likes to get the ball. It made that process more organic rather than saying 'this is your square hole, fit into it.'" In addition to the increased offensive efficency, Wright improved his assists while posting fewer turnovers. Further, Weston's improvement as an interior defender left Wright free to roam the passing lanes and he showed strong improvement in defensive categories. Much like ingredients in a fine mole sauce, Weston, Wright, Darwin SabinGlenn Hunt, William Azevedo, Sullivan, and the rest of the Archers' young players seemed to find that right balance of flavor in the stew.

Finally, there is the chaos that was the playoffs. Starting the playoffs, it seemed that no team could stop the Marauders who stormed through the regular season with an incredible 82.5% winning percentage. Yet, everywhere, there were giant killers lurking. The Evolution knocked off the higher seeded SeaDogs, Marauders, and Buzzards to arrive at the finals. A timely injury to Sheldon Perkins caused the emergence of "what if" scenarios of fans of the Bean Birds but even they Buzzards got past the higher seeded Knights with the help of a timely injury to Val Crumley. Then, in the American Conference bracket, the Pioneers upset the Stallions after Andrew Jackson was injured and the Lumberjacks upset the higher seeded Americans and Snipers (who, in turn, upset the Tritons). The Archers had their hands full with the Pioneers and Lumberjacks casting doubt on whether the American Conference champions could bring home a league title.

As the curtain lifted on the finals, the Archers came out strong with a nine point win at home but the chum was in the water for the Evolution tandem of Aaron Todd and Ronald Richardson. The two combined for 45 points in that first game but were held off with a combined team approach. Game two, was an overtime thriller after Jose Gaynor missed a shot in the post to clinch the win in regulation. The overtime would be punctuated by Glenn Hunt's three pointer which came after the defense was drawn to Fore in the corner with only a few seconds left on the clock. Fore gave up the ball to Weston who reversed the ball to Hunt and hunt drilled the long range bomb. Hunt showed his fire as he ran back on defense but had a few words to exchange with the bench. When asked what was said, Hunt replied, "I don't even remember. I was in the moment after hitting that shot and the emotions just came flowing out of me." Evolution faithful say that Hunt should have been given a techical for that but it was not to be that night. Five seconds and the Archers were simply defending the three point line. Gaynor flashed across the paint and nailed a leaning jumper looking for the and one call. The referees decided to let the players decide it and the end result was the Archers escaping with a one point win.

That game gave a sense of unease with Archers management as they were now looking at a three game road stint in New Jersey. The last thing the Archers wanted was to face a must win game 6 at home with a team that just pushed them to the brink. Hunt, who was feeling it this playoffs trimmed a six point defecit to three in the first road game but the struggle was real. Follow that with an 8 point loss in game four and it seemed like the the game six "must win" scenario predicted was going to come to pass. Then, in game six, coach Layne Hensley made the decision to shift the primary ball handling responsibility from Hunt to Fore. "I told him that, if we're going to pull this one out, he [Fore] was going to be the one to take us there," said head coach Layne Hensley.

Hensley has some experience with coaching stars from his time in Boston with hall of fame center, Everett Dolinish, and oversaw the emerging stardom of Tony Pence, Andrew Evans, and Andrew Lawler in Minnesota. Fore delivered the goods with a 34 point performance and, more importantly, taking the Evolution guards down low where he could use his body to force contact. The Archers managed to steal game 5 and a collective sigh of relef came from Archers management. Game 6 was not "do or die" and there was freedom to continue with what seemed to be working... or not. In the decisive game six, Hensley kept the ball handling responsibility with Fore and, one last time, he delivered a 39 point performance in what was a classic "Greg Fore" game... hitting shots from everywhere on the floor and hitting a LOT. The rest of the team was on board with that plan and contributed 20 assists with some very unselfish play on top of some underrated defense.

In the post game, a euphoric Fore was quick to credit everyone but himself. "I didn't get us there... we got us here. There were times that I would struggle or shots just won't fall then Shultzy or Brian would come in provide that lift... that spark. You know? It can get you going and there were times like that in this series and the one before. I'm thankful to God for the games where I was on but without Glenn or Randy hitting my spots, it would have been tougher. So we all need some love when it comes to credit for this trophy right here. This is such a validation! Thank you!"

 

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