Tuesday, 23 March 2021 14:59 Written by Ben Johnson
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A Series of Unfortunate Events


2029-Lefler-01
2028 Playoff MVP Wesley Lefler and the Pioneers scaled the mountainous challenge of the Boston Buzzards in an incredible seven game series.

Zero All-League players. Zero All Stars. Seven players who went undrafted. Two former second round picks, taken 38th and 46th overall. Of the six players drafted in the 1st round, four were drafted 18th or later. The starting guards were drafted 25th and 28th eight years ago -- and both suffered season-ending leg injuries. Add to this mix a rookie head coach replacing the winningest OBWL head coach of all time.

Ladies and gentleman, meet the 2028 OBWL champion Kansas City Pioneers.

Yes, seriously.

Facing a 3-1 series deficit, the Pioneers completed one of the most improbable comebacks in playoff history by defeating the Boston Buzzards 108-102 in Game 7 of the OBWL Finals. Sharp-shooting wing Gary Brainard earned Player of the Game honors, scoring 21 points off the bench on 8-13 shooting and 3-5 from three point range. Third year forward Ambrose Vela led Kansas City with 22 points (9-18 fgs, 1-2 3fgs, 3-4 fts) off the bench while guard Preston Braun - whose hot hand was key for the Pioneers in the Finals - added 18 points (4-9 3fgs), 4 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 steals in the win.

The Buzzards were led by All Star guard Jesse Yoshida's 19 points (8-18 fgs, 3-7 3fgs), 6 assists, and 4 steals while veteran center Darin Deans added 18 points (9-13 fgs), 8 rebounds, and 5 blocks. All Star and 2028 Sixth Man of the Year forward Sheldon Perkins notched a double double with 19 points and 10 rebounds off the bench but was limited to just 5-18 shooting from the field, including 1-5 from three point range and a costly 8-14 from the free throw line.

"I thought our defensive attention to Perkins was really dialed in tonight" said Pioneers head coach Paul Hauck in his post-game podium interview. "Obviously both Yoshida and Perkins are gifted offensive players but Perkins in particular is capable of a huge scoring night. Guarding a guy like him is always a team effort -- our defensive rotations have to be on point and all five guys need to be aware of him at all times as they flow through their offense. As a coaching staff we felt it was really important to do what we could to prevent a 'hero game' from Perkins. Fortunately, it worked out in our favor. He missed some shots he normally makes but generally speaking I was happy with how we guarded him throughout the game."

YOU NEVER FORGET YOUR FIRST

That press conference capped what may be the most incredible head coaching debut in OBWL history. After the retirement of coaching legend Cosmo Schwalje in the offseason, Kansas City General Manager and President of Basketball Operations Ben Johnson tapped Hauck, 42, to take his place on the bench. A relative unknown, Hauck was drafted in the first round, 26th overall, in 2016 by the Vancouver Highlanders. Somewhat ironically, Hauck was drafted with a pick traded to Vancouver by the Pioneers in the blockbuster deal that allowed KC to move up to draft F Marshall Gaudett 4th overall in 2015.

Hauck, a workman-like 6'8" power forward out of Boise State, played for three seasons with the Highlanders, starting 138 of 157 career OBWL games. Released by the Highlanders in June 2019, Hauck then began a productive career with the OBDL's National City Hurricanes. Hauck averaged 14.1 points and 7.1 rebounds over four seasons and started 301 of 302 career games with the Hurricanes. Despite being modestly talented, Hauck earned a reputation in the OBDL as a popular team mate and dependable player with a strong work ethic and high basketball IQ. In 2023, Hauck decided to retire from the OBDL when he got the opportunity to join the Wellington Wallabies, a newly-formed expansion team in the Australian NBL, as a player-coach. Hauck ended his OBDL career ranked 20th all time in points for that league.

"After seven seasons as a pro, and four of those putting up decent numbers in the D-League, I wasn't getting any call-ups from OBWL teams. I wasn't getting any younger so I figured when the job in Wellington became available, it was just time to move forward with the next phase of my life and my career" said Hauck.

"Coaching is in my blood. My uncle was one of the top high school basketball coaches in Washington state. My dad was involved in coaching AAU and various youth leagues and camps in our area when I was growing up. I knew early on that coaching and mentoring younger players in some capacity was something I wanted to do after my pro ball days were over."

Hauck spent five seasons as the Wallabies' head coach, earning three trips to the NBL Finals and two NBL titles. It was his success overseas that got Pioneers GM Ben Johnson's attention.

"Paul had earned a reputation as an promising, enthusiastic young coach" said Johnson. "He is the epitome of a player's coach. He wants his teams to play fast and aggressive at both ends of the court, getting after opponents defensively and getting out on the run and shooting threes on offense. Players really enjoy the freedom of that run and stun style, and we both agreed that pace and space is kind of where it's at in today's game. Paul's relatively recent experience as an OBWL player really helps him connect with today's players. Even though he wasn't a star -- maybe because he wasn't -- Paul understands the day-to-day grind and everything that comes with being a pro and how difficult the competition in this league is. He knows when to teach, when to demand, and when to ease up over the course of an 80 game season. That ability to create a culture that values hard work and accountability without being domineering is a big part of coaching these days, even as much as the X's and O's. All coaches at the OBWL level have the technical stuff down cold. It's the coaches that can develop players, get them to buy in to the system, and manage the ups and downs of a marathon season that have the most success in the OBWL"

"It's been a wild ride" said Hauck at the podium. "If you told me 12 months ago I'd be up here answering questions after winning a world championship, I'd have said you were crazy. Hell, if you had told me that after we lost Games 3 and 4 at home and with DC (Dieudonne Carpentier) out for the season, I would have told you that was pretty damn far-fetched."

Far-fetched is as good as any adjective to describe Hauck's first year as the Pioneers' head coach. Hauck's debut season includes winning the 2028 OBWL Coach of the Year award with a 60-20 (.750) regular season record, a 16-6 (.727) playoff record, an AmWest division title, a conference title, and an OBWL title... all at the age of 42.

WHO ARE THESE GUYS?

The narrative surrounding the 2028 Pioneers heading into the postseason was that this was an over-achieving collection of no-names and super scrubs. Ever since June of 2026, when the Pioneers lost in 7 games in the Finals to the London Knights, GM Ben Johnson has engaged in a hard reboot of the franchise. Gone are players from that team such as Mack Lavoie (traded to Manhattan), Charles Cazares (traded to Seattle), Joe Turner (traded to Denver), Marshall Gaudett and Blake Cobb (both retired), as well as Richard Hardee, Mark Marble, and David Kitchens (all let go in free agency). The only player remaining from that 65-win 2025 team is reserve PG Preston Braun.

In their place the Pioneers have assembled a mix of undrafted free agent prospects from the D-League (Braun, Mark Berry, Jarod Lovell, Douglas ReevesAntonio West, Ambrose Johnson, Roy Boyett), specialists who were former 2nd round picks (Brainard, Brian Feeley), "home grown" late 1st round picks (Trevor Roberts, Walker Hunt) and second tier veteran free agents who were also drafted late in the 1st round (Abe Gutierrez, Carpentier).

Kansas City only has two players who were former lottery picks: Wesley Lefler (#7 overall in 2020) who was acquired in a trade with the Quebec Coyotes, and Ambrose Vela (#10 overall in 2026) who was drafted with the pick acquired after Mack Lavoie was traded a few days before the draft.

"We may not have an abundance of guys who were big name college players or are sure-fire future Hall of Famers, but I think we have good players none the less" GM Johnson said with a chuckle in the locker room following the game. "It takes good players to compete in this league. Not just good players but players who know how to be part of a system, who are willing to do the dirty work and have the attention to detail it takes to win games in this league. You don't win 60 games without skill, talent, and determination."

"I think the hallmark of this team all season long has been selflessness and resiliency" said Johnson. "Wesley missed 28 games this season with a very, very serious concussion. He's doing great now, but in the meantime we needed guys to step in and step up... they did that and we hardly missed a beat. Preston Braun missed 26 games with a foot injury. And then in the middle of March, Baby Goot breaks his leg and is out for the season. Then of course in the playoffs it's DC that goes down in the Finals. It's been... a lot. And despite all that, the team held together and won 60 games and a championship. I've been in this league 18 years now and I don't think I've seen anything quite like this team."

"Every time there was adversity, it was like 'Next man up, keep it going!'"

The Pioneers' resiliency was on display at the end of the regular season and throughout the postseason. After Abe Gutierrez broke his leg in mid-March, Kansas City managed to close out the season by going 13-5 in his absence. Despite a strong push by the perennial division rival Anaheim Archers, KC finished two games ahead to clinch the 12th AmWest Division title in team history and secured the #1 seed in the American Conference playoffs with a 60-20 record.

EVADING THE SNIPERS

With Gutierrez out for the playoffs, the Pioneers leaned more heavily than ever on C Wesley Lefler and SG Dieudonne Carpentier. In the first round, the Pioneers took on the talented Sacramento Snipers. Led by two of the best players in the league in PF Gregory Santiago (2028 All Star, All-OBWL 2nd Team, All-Defense 1st Team, OBWL Rebounds Leader) and SF Lynwood Emmert (2028 All-OBWL 1st Team, 2nd in OBWL scoring at 28.3 ppg) Kansas City knew the duo of Lefler and Carpentier would have to step up their games to win the series.

In a four game sweep, Lefler averaged 20.8 points, 12.3 rebounds, 5.3 blocks, and 2.0 steals. Carpentier averaged 27.0 points, 6.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 2.3 steals. In the series-clinching Game 4 win at Sacramento, Carpentier poured in 33 points (13-23 fgs, 6-11 3fgs, 1-2 fts) and drilled a game-winning three pointer with 0:23 seconds remaining.

Kansas City needed every bit of the big performances because the Snipers' two all-world players were a heavy load to handle. For the series Santiago averaged 19.8 points, 16.1 rebounds, and 4.3 blocks while Emmert added 24.0 points and 8.3 rebounds. The Pioneers were at least able to cut into the two stars' regular efficiency as Santiago shot just 36.8% (28-76 fgs) from the field while Emmert was limited to just 31.4% shooting (11-35 fgs) from outside the paint. Additionally, the superstar pair combined for 26 turnovers versus just 16 assists (0.62 A/TO) over the course of the series.

"Santiago and Emmert are the kind of players you really can't stop" said GM Ben Johnson after the series. "You have to try your best to contest their shots but at the end of the day you know they are going to 'get theirs.' Our approach was to try to make them work for their points but the bigger focus was on shutting off the other three guys on the floor. If guys like Louis Wendling get going, if their shooters start getting easy looks from deep, then there is no way you are beating them."

SOWING CHAOS

In the second round the Pioneers faced off against the resurgent Los Angeles Chaos, who were coming off a grueling seven game series win over the Philadelphia Americans. The Chaos struggled for the most part during the regular season against KC, and they showed signs of fatigue after their long and hard fought series with Philly. The Pioneers swept the series 4-0 with an average margin of more than 23 points per game. For the series Lefler averaged 13.8 points, 11.3 rebounds, 4.0 blocks, and 1.8 steals in 31.8 minutes. Carpentier averaged 17.3 points, 5.0 assists, and 2.0 steals in just 31.3 minutes per game.

AGAINST THE TRITONS

After a commanding run through the first two rounds the Pioneers faced their greatest challenge yet, the AmEast division champion Tampa Bay Tritons. KC held on for two close victories at home to start the series and run their playoff record to 10-0. The Tritons took Games 3 and 4 back home in Tampa behind strong defense and scoring machine Jose Owens, who averaged 25.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists, and 3.5 blocks in the two game home stand.

The Pioneers eeked out another home win, 114-108, in Game 5 despite another 31 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 blocks from Owens. Wesley Lefler led KC with 25 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 steals while Dieudonne Carpentier had 20 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists.

It was a battle of super duos in Game 6 back in Tampa. Despite Lefler's 30 points (15-24 fgs) and 10 rebounds and Carpentier's 29 points (12-24 fgs, 5-12 3fgs) the Pioneers fell to the Tritons, 123-115. Owens was again unstoppable with 37 points (14-27 fgs, 2-5 3fgs, 7-7 fts), 9 rebounds, 6 assists, and 3 blocks. SF Joe Aviles erupted offensively, scoring 28 points (12-16 fgs, 2-4 3fgs, 2-4 fts) to go along with 7 rebounds and 5 assists.

So it would come down to a tense, winner-take-all Game 7 showdown in Kansas City. GM Ben Johnson, prior to the game: "Anything can happen in a Game 7. Home court doesn't matter at that point. We lost to the Knights in the toughest way possible in the 2025 Finals... and that was in Game 7 on our court. So, no, being at home doesn't give me any extra confidence. They've got Jose Owens, Colby Allan, and Joe Aviles over there. Those are great players who can turn a game all by themselves."

"We're going to have to come out with maximum effort and execute at a very high level to win this game. I have no doubt the effort will be there. This group of Pioneers has proven themselves in that regard time and time again. As far as execution, well, the Tritons will do whatever they can to turn that in their favor. We'll have to come out and meet force with force. It's going to be war" said Johnson.

Fortunately for Pioneer Nation, the team came out on fire both offensively and defensively. KC swarmed defensively, holding the Tritons to 39.4% shooting from the field, and just 10-34 (29.4%) from three point range. The defense fired up the crowd and fueled the Pioneers' running game. Kansas City shot a blistering 56.7% from the field and knocked down 13 of 24 (54.2%) threes, many of them coming in transition. Designated marksman Gary Brainard went a perfect 6-6 from the floor, including 3-3 from three. SF Ambrose Johnson, primarily a defensive specialist, benefited from the open floor to give the offense a boost with 17 points on 7-13 shooting (3-5 3fgs). Dieudonne Carpentier added 20 points (9-15 fgs, 2-5 3fgs) as the Pioneers downed the Tritons, 127-99.

The hero of the day however, was Wesley Lefler. Lefler dominated his matchup with Tritons legend Hunter Heath en route to his best game of the postseason: 32 points (14-22 fgs, 4-4 fts) and 18 rebounds (5 orb). Heath led the Tritons with 8 assists but was held to just 3 points on 1-10 shooting from the floor.

"I knew I had to come up big for us tonight if we wanted to win this game" said Lefler. "I knew [Jose] Owens was gonna bring it, so I need to match him or do better. I took it upon myself to try to set the tone." Owens scored 23 points in 30 minutes but was held to 10-24 (41.7%) shooting by the center tandem of Antonio West and Mark Berry.

A FEAST FOR CROWS

Lefler's monster game propelled the Pioneers back to the Finals for the fifth time in franchise history. There they would face a powerful Boston Buzzards squad making their second Finals appearance in three years. The Buzzards were dominant in the regular season, finishing with a 65-15 record and leading the OBWL in point differential (+13.5). The Buzzards had cruised through the postseason defeating the Arizona Thunderbirds (4-1), the Seattle Sea Dogs (4-1), and the Andrew Evans-less Minnesota Marauders (4-1) who were the #1 seed in the NatCon. The Buzzards were led by All Star guard Jesse Yoshida and Sixth Man of the Year and All Star forward Sheldon Perkins.

In addition to Yoshida and Perkins, the Buzzards enjoy a deep roster of physical, versatile, defense minded players. The Buzzards were by far the best defensive team in the OBWL in the regular season, their #1 ranked Defensive Efficiency of 90.9 was 4.8 points better than the runner up London Knights. The gap between the #1 Buzzards and #2 Knights was nearly as big as the gap between the Knights and the #10 ranked Manhattan Swing. The Buzzards were also among league leaders in Rebound Percentage (3rd overall), Defensive Rebound Percentage (2nd), Block Percentage (1st), and Steal Percentage (5th).

Kansas City was 0-2 in the regular season series with Boston. They lost on Halloween night in Boston, 96-109, in the very first game of the season. They were then blown out at home in a late January rematch, 102-121, in a game that Lefler missed during his extended injury absence. Boston would hold home court advantage in the Finals (having finished 5 games better than KC in the regular season) and they were a league-leading 37-3 at home in 2028. In addition, the Buzzards were on an epic hot streak. Including the postseason, the Buzzards had won an amazing 45 of 51 games (.882) since February 5th.

Even if they were at full strength, Kansas City would have come into the series as underdogs.

"The Buzzards are a great team" said Pioneers head coach Paul Hauck. "They are very solid on offense and incredible on defense. There are very few weak links defensively on that roster and they have a guy like Darin Deans to erase any mistakes that do get made. They get in your jersey defensively, crash the boards at both ends, and just generally are able to impose their collective will on the game. Add to that depth, versatility, and great coaching and it's a very tall order to beat them in a seven game series."

As always though, the Pioneers were not about to back down from a challenge. Boston won Game 1 at home, 99-91, in a hard fought contest. Neither team shot the ball well -- KC 34.8%, BOS 41.6% -- and the two teams were nearly even on the glass. The deciding factor was turnovers. The Pioneers had 23 turnovers versus 16 for the Buzzards. Frank Gifford had a great game for Boston, scoring 23 points (11-19 fgs, 1-1 3fgs) to go with 9 rebounds and 3 assists. Lefler (6-18 fgs) and Carpentier (6-14 fgs) struggled offensively for Kansas City, although Lefler did add 17 rebounds, 6 blocks, and 2 steals.

The Pioneers' long range shooting caught fire in Game 2. Preston Braun (19 pts), Gary Brainard (20 pts), and Brian Feeley (14 pts) came off the bench to shoot a combined 13-17 (76.5%) from three as the Pioneers scored a 123-114 upset victory. Wesley Lefler added 23 points (11-22 fgs) and 13 rebounds to partially offset a great game by Sheldon Perkins, who had 31 points (8-11 fgs, 15-22 fts) off the bench for Boston.

The enthusiasm over stealing home court advantage would be short-lived however. The Pioneers led 59-50 at halftime of Game 3 in Kansas City, but the Buzzards came out of the locker room for the second half breathing fire defensively. Boston blitzed the Pioneers in the 3rd quarter, 40-16. The floodgates were opened by a combination of great aggressive defense (Boston would end the game with 17 steals) and the scoring mastery of Sheldon Perkins. Perkins went off for the second straight game with 38 points (14-26 fgs, 3-6 3fgs, 7-9 fts), his highest scoring game of the postseason as the Buzzards rolled to a 121-107 win.

"They just took us out behind the wood shed in the 3rd" said Coach Hauck. "We haven't done a good enough job taking care of the ball this series and they completely capitalized on it after halftime. We had 25 turnovers and that's a great way to get yourself in a deep, deep hole. Give credit to their defense for forcing those miscues. We've got to counter their aggressiveness or this is going to be a short series" said Hauck.

Surrendering home court was just a small part of the bad news following Game 3. With 3:28 left to play in the game and the Pioneers trailing 111-99, Dieudonne Carpentier was forced to leave the floor due to severe pain in his left knee. Carpentier had been dealing with patellar tendonitis (a.k.a. "jumper's knee") throughout the regular season and postseason but had been managing it through rest, anti-inflammatory medication, and ice bath treatments. An MRI after the game however revealed a small partial tear of the patellar tendon and Carpentier would be forced to shut it down for the rest of the season to rehab. Already short-handed without Gutierrez, it was a devastating blow to lose the only other guard on the roster able to consistently create his own shot.

"It's really disappointing" said Carpentier. "We've fought so hard to get this far and now it feels like we've hit a brick wall. I've had some pretty bad soreness in that knee during some of these playoff games but this was different. I came down and suddenly there was this stabbing pain and I couldn't move hardly. I feel like it's unfair for me and my team mates. I just feel terrible."

In the postgame press conference Coach Hauck, generally an optimist, was somber as well. "It's a tough blow, no way to sugar coat it. We've relied on DC to facilitate a lot of the half court offense since Goot went down. When we need to get something going offensively we'll usually go to DC running a two-man game with Wesley. Without that threat of Dieudonne pulling up for three or turning the corner and getting downhill into the paint to create something for himself or the spot-up shooters.... we're going to have to figure out something fast in order to put up any points against this defense."

The Pioneers definitely didn't figure anything out heading into Game 4.

The Buzzards beat KC, 104-92, to take a 3 games to 1 lead. Boston was led by their two stars, Yoshida and Perkins, who scored 24 points a piece. SF Frank Gifford added a monster double double with 18 points and a career-high 19 rebounds. Boston out-rebounded Kansas City 58-49 and held the Pioneers to just 36.8% shooting overall, and completely shut down their long range attack. The Pioneers made just 9-32 (28.1%) three pointers.

Veterans Wesley Lefler and Gary Brainard tried to shoulder the offensive load in Carpentier's absence but struggled mightily. Lefler finished with 14 points, 13 rebounds, and 8 blocks but shot a paltry 7-21 (33.3%) from the field and coughed up a playoff career-worst 8 turnovers. Brainard added 15 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 steals but made just 5-17 (29.4%) shots and an abysmal 2-12 (16.7%) from three point range.

After the game, Coach Hauck said "I think we tried to do too much individually. On too many possessions guys tried to do it by themselves. I think maybe the guys felt pressure to 'take over' and try to make good things happen but that's how you end up forcing things and then you get bad shots and turnovers. That's not our game. You're not going to beat a team like Boston without moving the ball side to side and finding the open guy. We can't get caught up in settling for isolations and letting them load up defensively on one guy. We got to move the ball and trust one another to make the right plays at the right time."

Following the loss, both national and local pundits had all but written the Pioneers' obituary. Completely understandable given how improbable it was the team could win three straight with both starting guards sidelined for the season. The press turned its attention to the promise of the Buzzards bringing home their first Heikkinen Cup after two previous trips to the Finals and more than 15 years as one of the model franchises in the OBWL.

In Kansas City, the mood was more morose. After three previous losses in the OBWL Finals, Pioneers fans were pessimistic heading into this series even before the team found itself in a 3-1 hole. The feelings of many fans were reflected in an article written by the Kansas City Star's OBWL beat writer Samuel "Strings" Thompson, who was merely hoping the Pioneers could win one at home for the fans before returning to Boston to become "road kill" for the eventual champions.

DIE ANOTHER DAY

Perhaps fueled by truly having their backs against the wall, the Pioneers came out energized in Game 5. Although they found themselves down 9 points after three quarters, they seemed to have found a groove offensively and were shooting the ball much better than they had in Game 4. Kansas City cranked up their intensity at both ends in the 4th quarter. Defensively the Pioneers came up with 5 steals and limited the Buzzards to 24 points in the final stanza. Offensively KC got out in transition and attacked the basket repeatedly, drawing 11 personal fouls and shooting 20 free throws in the 4th quarter alone.

A free throw by Roy Boyett gave the Pioneers a 110-108 lead with 0:15 seconds left in the game, but the Buzzards' James Wall hit a fading jumper from the left baseline as time expired to send the contest into overtime. In overtime the Pioneers held Boston scoreless for a 1:15 stretch and then Roy Boyett hit a three pointer to give Kansas City a 122-116 lead with 1:59 left to play. Boston started fouling to get the ball back at this point, and the Pioneers made their free throws down the stretch to secure a 132-127 win.

Asked following the game about his team's 40-28 advantage in free throws for the game, Coach Hauck said: "I think for the first time in several quarters of this series, we were the more aggressive team. The team that plays with aggression and confidence gets the benefit of the doubt on those calls. We came up with 17 steals for the game, were able to get out and run. With 30 assists and 12 threes made, I think we did a good job of getting into the paint and then kicking out to the open shooters. We made some adjustments to our spacing and how we're getting penetration and I think that was a key to this victory."

Preston Braun led the Pioneers with 31 points (8-10 fgs, 4-6 3fgs, 11-12 fts), 4 rebounds, 10 assists, and 3 steals. Braun benefited from open looks created by Wesley Lefler's inside game (26 points, 10 rebounds, 6 blocks) and Ambrose Vela's slashing drives (17 points, 9-9 fts, 4 steals, 3 assists). Boston was led by James Wall's 23 points (8-16 fgs, 1-3 3fgs, 3-4 fts), 5 rebounds, 5 assists, and 5 steals. Sheldon Perkins scored 22 points but was limited to 9-21 (42.8%) shooting from the floor.

Although neither team realized it at the time, the Pioneers had struck upon a blueprint for success in the rest of the series.

Returning to Boston for Game 6, the Pioneers shocked an initially frenzied home crowd of 20,816 into silence with a 116-108 win. Ambrose Vela, the Pioneers' 22-year old forward, led 8 KC players in double figures with 24 points (8-16 fgs, 0-2 3fgs, 8-14 fts), 8 rebounds, and 4 assists. Vela played most of his minutes in the game as a power forward in a "small ball" lineup alongside C Wesley Lefler and three spot-up shooters. Whether in a pick and roll with Lefler or by simply taking his man off the dribble from the top of the key, Vela was able to find driving lanes repeatedly and either score, get to the line, or find shooters for good looks. Two of the primary beneficiaries of Vela's forays to the hoop were Preston Braun (15 points, 4-8 3fgs) and Brian Feeley (15 points, 5-6 fgs, 3-4 3fgs, 2-2 fts). The strategy paid off because even when Boston stuck close to the shooters the Pioneers were repeatedly able to attack the basket and get to the foul line. For the second straight game the Pioneers held a big free throw advantage, taking 44 free throw attempts versus just 18 for the Buzzards,

Another adjustment the Pioneers made -- somewhat counter intuitively, given their injury situation -- was to go deeper into their bench. Rather than tighten the rotation and play veterans like Lefler or Brainard heavy minutes to compensate for the loss of Carpentier and Gutierrez, Coach Hauck made the call to add youngsters like Vela and Walker Hunt to the rotation.

"We've played a high energy style all season long" said Coach Hauck. "It's worked well for us so far. But to make that work you need fresh legs. Guys can't trap, switch, and rotate quickly on defense or run the floor at full speed if they're dead-ass tired from playing too many minutes. So if we have to play some of the younger or less experienced guys to do that, we just hope they can give us some quality minutes."

And so the stage was set for an "anything can happen" Game 7 in Boston.

NOBODY'S CHAMPIONS

The Pioneers came out with great confidence to start Game 7. Despite a fired-up home crowd and a Buzzards team facing its first elimination game of the postseason, Kansas City jumped out to an 11-4 lead. After spotting Boston a 4-0 lead the Pioneers buckled down defensively and held them scoreless over the next 1 minute and 43 seconds. Boston only stopped KC's 11-0 run when G Roy Boyett was assessed a technical foul for taunting after his 2nd three pointer in that span.

The Buzzards quickly settled down after the technical foul shot however and went on a 15-7 run over the next 4 minutes to take a 19-18 lead, forcing Coach Hauck to call a timeout. Coach Hauck tore into his players during the timeout, chastising them for relaxing once they got the lead and reminding them just how dangerous this Buzzards squad was. "Don't act like we got this just because we won the last two games!" Hauck shouted over the din of a raucous Boston crowd. "Take a long look at those guys over there! That's the same team that got us down 3-1. That's the team that's not gonna give up this game unless you reach out and TAKE it from them! You have to WANT it more than them!" The Pioneers then came out of the timeout and SF Ambrose Johnson hit a three-pointer from the left corner to give KC a 21-19 lead.

The Pioneers would not trail again for the rest of Game 7.

Kansas City went on to win 108-102 but the game was comfortably in command throughout. KC led by 7 at halftime and would push the lead to as much as 12 points in the second half. The Buzzards would threaten a number of times, mostly behind the scoring of Jess Yoshida outside (19 points) and Darin Deans inside (18 points) but even though they drew within a single basket of the Pioneers a handful of times they could never get over the hump. Each time the Pioneers would dig in defensively -- Ben Bonilla, Frank Gifford, James Wall, and Sheldon Perkins combined to shoot 16-48 (33.3%) from the field -- and would methodically build the lead back to 8-10 points.

Wesley Lefler scored just 8 points and was limited to 4-15 fgs, but again the team was sparked by the slashing drives of Ambrose Vela (22 points on 9-18 fgs). Vela had three dunks in the game, including a pair of 3-point plays when he dunked on Sheldon Perkins twice in the second half. The threat of Vela's drives set the table for the catch-and-shoot three point proficiency of Preston Braun, Gary Brainard, and Roy Boyett. Those three would shoot a combined 9-17 (52.9%) from three as the Pioneers knocked down 14-35 (40.0%) as a team in Game 7.

"Whether it is Wesley in the low post or AV getting into the paint off the dribble, having players who can collapse the defense makes my job a lot easier" said Preston Braun after the game. Braun shot 27-48 (56.3%) from three point range in the seven game series versus Boston.

Wesley Lefler was named 2028 OBWL Playoff MVP. In 22 postseason games Lefler averaged 18.5 points, 11.9 rebounds, 4.4 blocks and 1.9 steals. Lefler becomes just the third big man in OBWL history to be named Playoff MVP, following Gene Cantell (2016) and Jean Larry (2024, 2025).

"It's unbelievable to even be mentioned in the same sentence as a legend like Jean Larry" said Wesley Lefler. "I'll be the first to tell you I'm not anywhere close to being on that level as a guy like Jean Larry. I'm just proud of this award because I think it shows you don't have to be a 30 point scorer to help your team win it all. I take pride in my team defense, take pride in doing a little bit of everything. Rebounds, blocks, steals, setting screens and even getting a few buckets. Even though we play fast and score a lot of points, I know everyone on this team takes pride in our defense. We work hard and fly to the ball and prove that playing good defense doesn't mean just grinding it out and only playing half court basketball. I think this award kind of validates that and it's recognition of the kind of effort we strive for as a team."

Later that evening, as most of the other players had begun filtering out of the visitor's locker room at CJW Partners Arena, fifth year veteran Gary Brainard could be found sitting at his locker cradling the Heikkinen Cup and puffing on a celebratory cigar. "We heard what everybody was saying" said Brainard. "'They're a bunch of no-names and nobodies' they said. 'No way they can win the championship.' We just blocked out all that noise and played our brand of team ball. It's kind of a coaching cliché but we have a saying around here: 'Be a star in your role.' I think every guy on this squad, one through fifteen, takes that to heart. We may not get the hype and respect some players in this league get, but we know how to be stars in our own way."

Brainard, who also won a championship in 2026 as a role player with the Tampa Bay Tritons, continued: "So let people call us nobodies. We're nobodies with rings, and that's more than most people can ever say!"

 

 

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