August 2, 2019
By Morgan Wenger
Although the Top Dawg division field was very small in terms of quantity of teams, there was no shortage of talent on the court. All three teams that entered the bracket had a legitimate crack at taking home the $2,000 grand prize. In the end, it was tournament newcomer White Shirts doing what numerous other teams have been unable to do since the inception of the tournament. The tournament’s most notable and dominant team, the Canton Ballers, would advance to the championship round for the twelfth time in fourteen years. In their previous eleven trips to the championship series, they had won nine times and lost only twice. Both losses were one possession games in game 3 of the best of three series, and many of the wins, including the last two, were in similar dramatic fashion. There would be no drama on this day ,however, as the White Shirts left no doubt as to who the best team on the court was this year.
Tournament veteran Steve Isaac returned with his Fibica team this year and drew the Canton Ballers right out of the gate. Fibica was up to the challenge right away, battling the nine-time champs on every possession. Isaac (9 points) and teammate Abe Valentine (10 points) were effective throughout the game, but eventually succumbed to the Canton Ballers by the score of 30-21. All four members of the Canton Ballers scored between six and nine points as they rode their hot shooting from three-point land to the opening round win. This put them into the winner’s bracket finals against White Shirts. White Shirts were in attack mode from the start, mixing in good ball movement with hard drives and timely shooting to gain a lead midway through the game. Justin Miller (11 points) was hurting the Canton squad from the outside while Marcus Ernst (12 points) put his athleticism and mobility on display on the inside. Although the champs did not go quietly, they could not catch the younger White Shirts in what ended up being a 30-24 final. Evan Pannell led Canton with eight points in the loss.
This left Fibica and Canton in the loser’s bracket while White Shirts waited in the wings for the winner. Abe Valentine put his imprint on this game right away. The young wing player was expertly mixing in his long-range shooting touch with an impressive array of drives and mid-range jumpers on his way to a game high 14 points. As soon as Canton would adjust to show him some more attention, Steve Isaac (10 points) would hurt them on the boards with his seemingly tireless motor. As has been the case many times before in this tournament, Angelo Edwards came to the rescue for his team once again. Doing most of his damage from three-point land, he kept Canton close for most of the game before Fibica closed out a 30-24 victory to put the winners of the last five tournaments on the brink of elimination. Throughout the years, it has seemed that the Canton Ballers seemingly always hit their stride when they are in the most unenviable of positions. This year would not be any different, as they began turning up the pressure on Fibica in the next game. Pushing Abe Valentine out farther away from the basket and turning up their defensive intensity in general led to a 30-15 route in the next game. Aside from their increased defensive pressure, Angelo Edwards continued his offensive onslaught with a game high 13 points. Another notable change was the offensive aggressiveness of Tim Vandervaart. Vandervaart, who has used his trademark bundle of post moves to keep opponents off balance for years, added 10 points to give Fibica their second loss in the triple elimination bracket. With the nine-time champions paying more attention to Steve Isaac, it was time for Abe Valentine to step up his game if his team was going to advance. Valentine (12 points) proved to be up to the challenge early in the elimination game, once again mixing up his offensive game effectively to forge his team into the lead as the game entered the stretch run. Jarred Schultz (11 points) added timely shooting to keep Canton honest in their coverages as well. With his team needing a boost, Mario Edwards came to the rescue just in time for the Canton Ballers. Mario used his deft shooting touch and smooth offensive arsenal to grab the lead from Fibica in the latter stages of the game and advance to yet another championship series after a 30-27 win. Fibica had a three-point attempt to knock the champions out on their last offensive possession of the game, but could not convert.
After seeing this scenario play out many times in previous tournaments, many people in attendance were almost expecting the Canton Ballers to find a way to win another title at this point. White Shirts had no intentions of letting it happen though. In particular, Dalton Bolon turned up the energy on both sides of the ball. Bolon was driving to the hoop fearlessly yet finishing with expert skill around the rim. He was also leading his team defensively as they tried to make it as hard as possible on the Edwards brothers when they had the ball. Mario Edwards hit two three pointers to keep his team within striking distance and Evan Pannell added another eight points as the game wore into crunch time. In the end, Canton had no answer for the energy of White Shirts. Bolon scored 14 points and got another 12 points from Justin Miller as they held off Canton to secure a 30-24 win in game 1. With the nine-time champs clearly staggering from an energy standpoint and, perhaps very aware of the championship acumen of their opponent, White Shirts had no intention of letting up at all. If possible, Dalton Bolon turned on the jets even more. Bolon was simply playing at a speed and with a force that nobody else on the court could match. He powered his way to an impressive 21 points to help clinch the championship for his team with a convincing 30-16 win and notch the tournament MVP award for himself. Tim Vandervaart, likely playing in his final game at the tournament due to the retirement he announced soon after the conclusion of the game, finished with six points to lead his team in defeat.
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