2018 FBA Season/17.12.15/DAK@PIT/Capsule

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Can two teams from separate conferences be considered rivals? Conventional wisdom would say no, but what happened Friday night in western Pennsylvania when the Dakota Bikers faced off against the Pittsburgh Keystones was as intense as any intradivisional lovefest on record.

The Bikers rolled into town riding a 9-game winning streak and a stupefying 18-and-1 record - their most recent win a thorough drubbing of the Plymouth Taproots (a team with a current record as subterranean as their name) that saw two Biker players each score 40 points.

The Keystones meanwhile have had a far more middling season of ups-and-downs, and came into Friday's game fresh off a Thursday night loss to the Las Vegas Wildcards led by the Wayne Kirkpatrick (Tasmanian Devil, F), the tempermental tazzie with a Keystone-sized chip on his shoulder. As if that weren't enough, the hometown heroes were down two players due to injury - longtime fan favorite Alan Murphy (Kangaroo, F) and feline finesse Shirley Takamoto (Jaguar, F/G).

No one would fault the Keystones if the Bikers steamrolled right on as they have already been doing all season long.

No one, except perhaps the Keystones themselves.

Right from the get-go the Keystones played like a team with something to prove. Led by future hall of famer Randy Catcher (Bullfrog, G) they jumped out to an early 40 to 28 lead. Helping the cause were Tyrone Gale (Horse, G/F), filling in for Takamoto and making a solid case for more regular starter duty, and rookie Carlos Reyes (Hooded Skunk,F), a second round draft pick and surprise success for Pittsburgh. They held the line admirably against Dylan Redfield (Red Deer, F) and Mika Mishima (Tanuki, F/C) respectively; General Manager Quintaux should feel no great pain on failing to successfully court Redfield in free agency for the second time in a row. Perhaps the only disappointment for the Keystones starting lineup was Christiaan Hengst (Friesian Horse, C/F); the big horse was thoroughly shut down by Benjamin Durby (Fallow Deer, C/F).

Though the Bikers dominated on rebounds throughout the night, and, aside from Reyes, every Keystone starter was outscored by his Biker counterpart, the Keystones matched their opponents shot-for-shot and never relinquished the lead.

After halftime with a narrow 68-62 lead, the Keystones bench turned on the afterburner. Elisa Lawless (Ocelot, G), who parted ways with Dakota in a very public fashion in the offseason, in particular delivered a ferocious performance. Promoted from deep reserve for this game against her former squad, the crepuscular ocelot made the most of her 17 minutes on the court, notching 11 points, 2 assists, and 3 personal fouls for good measure. Her counterweight in the trade that brought her east, Stan Shields Jr. (Gray Wolf, F), in contrast managed only 2 points in a similar timeframe in his first return to the canine-unfriendly environs of the Keystones' arena.

The Bikers made a late push in the fourth quarter, outscoring Pittsburgh 38-18, but the deficit was too big to overcome. The final horn sounded to the standing ovation of the Keystones fans and a 118-116 final tally.

I can't wait to see what happens when the rematch is on Bikers' turf. March 6 will be marked in red on my calendar.

- S. St. James

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