2017 FBA Season/16.11.17/TEN@PIT/Capsule

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Wow. How ‘bout those Pittsburgh Keystones?

To say the start of this season has been disappointing for the boys and girls from Pennsylvania may be an understatement. Over the first 8 games of the season, the Keystones are 3 and 5: Undefeated at home, but winless on the road, a trend that, if continued, would at least guarantee a .500 record, but certainly not a Healey Davis.

So where did it go wrong? What’s so different? Two things immediately stand out: the highly controversial trade that sent Wayne Kirkpatrick (Tasmanian Devil, F) to Las Vegas and the retirement of Head Coach Anton K. Schumacher (Eurasian Lynx, HC).

I had the opportunity recently to speak with Pittsburgh general manager Mark S. Quintaux horse-to-horse. Despite the surplus of (metaphorical) nay-sayers, Quintaux remains confident. “I believe in the team we have built. It’s a long season, longer than last season even… If I may borrow a phrase from your breed, it’s an endurance race, not a sprint. Coach Ngozi (Marseille Ngozi (Lion, HC)) has a steep learning curve coming into a team that is already well-established, but I believe my decisions as manager will be vindicated by playoff time. The cap space became necessary, and I am confident that we have enough depth to thrive even without Mr. Kirkpatrick’s services. We wish him nothing but the best.”

I asked him about a recent controversial tweets from sophomore Saga Ström (Howler Monkey, F/G), including the pledge that this season will be her last in the FBA as long as president-elect Frump is in the White House and suggesting that the GM should be fired for the Kirkpatrick trade. “Our players are entitled to their own opinions. My immediate reaction was to suspend Ms. Ström, but I quickly reconsidered. Suspending a player for exercising their rights in a way that harms no one but my own ego would not be in the best interests of the team. Ms. Ström and I will be having a discussion, and while I disagree with her assessment, I do not intend to bench her when we need her the most.”

And need her they do. Last game saw Keystones starters Lance Freewell (Clouded Leopard, C), Shirley Takamoto (Jaguar, F/G), and Terrence Tolliver (Pronghorn, G) all placed on the Disabled List after a hard-fought but ultimately losing battle against the Tallahassee Typhoons. The Keystones, with only 14 roster slots filled to begin the season, can hardly spare any player. When asked about filling the 15th slot, Quintaux responded “Certainly it is something we would like to do, but it needs to be the right player. We do not have the budget to afford much experimentation. I will continue to consult with Coach Ngozi to determine how best to fill our team’s needs.”

It is into this environment that the Tennessee Moonshiners arrived for Thursday night’s game. Despite the controversy, Coach Ngozi elected to give Ström the role of starting short forward in place of Takamoto. Erik Kijani (Leopard, G) (in for Tolliver) and Christiaan Hengst (Friesian Horse, C/F) (in for Freewell) were also promoted to starters for the first time this season.

The fresh-faced starting lineup appeared well up to the task to start the game. Hengst won the opening tipoff against Eli Schuck (Pangolin, C), and the first points of the night came from Ström.

The game remained close through three quarters, and the teams entered the final frame tied at 68. Unfortunately for the Keystones, the fourth quarter has proven to be their most troublesome so far, regularly being outscored in the final twelve minutes - including by a whopping 14 points at the Lorain Firestorm on November 7 - and this night was little different. Despite a valiant effort, the final buzzer saw the Moonshiners up by 5, handing the Keystones their first home loss of the season.

Despite her pessimism, Ström was the team’s top scorer, notching 25 points (including an impressive trio of three-pointers), the same total as Moonshiners Player of the Game Hal Dufrain (American Alligator, F/C). Hengst earned a double-double in his starting debut, with 10 points and 12 rebounds. Mathiyazhagan Balasubramaniam (Malabar Giant Squirrel, F), suiting up for the first time since the Kirkpatrick trade that brought him to Steel City, made the most of his scant eight minutes of court time, putting up three points.

If the Keystones have a secret plan for improvement, they best implement it quickly. They travel to California to face the red-hot Santa Ana Spectrums on Sunday, a game that will be broadcast nationally on SportsDen.

-S. St. James

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