It's Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals match-up between the Tennessee Moonshiners and the Biloxi Voodoo, two teams that were locked in a battle for top honors in the Southern Division right up to the last game of the regular season, a battle Biloxi won (and thereby earned homecourt advantage in this series). The furs from Tennessee are fresh off a grueling seven-game series against the Pittsburgh Keystones, while the mighty Mississippians are well-rested after a summary four-game sweep of the Queens Pride.
But just as the Voodoo and Pride found themselves linked by the bonds of home and family, so too are the Voodoo and the Moonshiners. Voodoo center Sterling Bengtzing (Marbled Polecat, C/F) is good friends with Moonshiners forward Tryce Peter Mallark (Gelada Baboon, F), while Tanya Feckle (Gerenuk, F/G), Hal Dufrain (American Alligator, F/C) (who owes Tanya a Mercedes thanks to a Twitter bet), and Hank Sawyer (Virginia Opossum, G) form the fearsome and suggestively named "Pensacola Threesome", the trio having joined the league together in the 2014 draft out of Pensacola Predatorial & Mechanical.
Things certainly promise to get personal in this series, and they also promise to get global. Of the 12 players dressed for Tennessee tonight, 11 grew up saluting the Stars and Stripes. In comparison, the Voodoo are a veritable International House of Ballers, with players hailing from as far afield as South Korea (Derek Kim (Kkachi, G)) and Estonia (Kaspar Kuusik (Eurasian lynx,G)) - and that's just their starting guards. Three more transplants wait deeper in the night's lineup.
From the opening tipoff, the two teams certainly seemed evenly matched. Sawyer and Kim traded points just as Dufrain and Bengtzing matched each other rebound-for-rebound. The two teams ended the first quarter knotted at 25.
In the second quarter, the story was much the same, with one notable exception. Dufrain's rebounding stalled at 5 while Bengtzing continued to forge ahead, ratcheting his total up to 10. The Voodoo began to pull ahead, entering the half ahead by 9, 54-45.
That story continued through the second half, and though the visitors made up some ground in the final quarter the home team Voodoo have won the first game of the series 101-91.
Player of the Game honors went to Bengtzing with 14 points and an astonising 18 rebounds. Kim led his team in points with 22, and further helped the cause with 13 assists. On the Tennessee side, Sawyer squeaked out the only double-double with 18 points and 10 assists.
Nevertheless, the Voodoo showed signs of weakness. Mallark was unintimidated by Feckle's fanged grin, responding with a set of even larger chompers that are 100% natural to boot; the primate outperformed the ungulate in nearly every non-dental stat as well. Promising rookie Kuusik was tepid, sinking only a single field goal in more than 30 minutes of court time.
The series stays in Biloxi for Game 2 on Tuesday.
-S. St. James