The Winter 2017 Pistons Academy Rookie League, presented by Kroger, concluded with last night’s Championship Game at Franklin Athletic Club. Over the past nine weeks, our Rookie League teams and players have been competing and practicing with the common goal of becoming Rookie League Champions. Many teams improved tremendously and gave it their best shot, but on Thursday night only two teams remained. Two teams that had enjoyed a perfect season, fending off all challengers and setting up a basketball fan’s dream match up: Two undefeated teams, two excellent coaches, several Rookie League superstars, and one large crowd of excited, anxious, and proud supporters.
Heat 16, Lakers 14: The second-seeded Heat, led by Coach Mike Bernard, came out on top in this heavyweight battle earning themselves the Rookie League Championship. Throughout a tightly contested game, fans were treated to a wonderful display of skill, sportsmanship, and back-and-forth action. Right from the opening tip, you could tell both teams came to play. Each team scored on their first two possessions, making the score 4-4 just under two minutes into the game. From there, the scoring slowed down a bit as both teams settled down and tried to regain their composure. At the halftime break, the Lakers led by a score of 8-6. The Heat started the second half on fire as they rattled off 7 straight points to take an impressive 13-8 lead with 8 minutes to go. However, the Lakers would not go away. They slowly chipped away at the Heat’s lead, and soon found themselves right back in the game. A bucket from Ethan Tigay (2 points), followed by a three-pointer from Jonah Zekman pulled the Lakers to within one point, 14-13, following a Kayla Hairston (3 points) free throw for the Heat. And that is when things got interesting. Trailing 14-13 with under a minute to go, Lakers’ star Jonah Zekman was fouled and given two free throws. Zekman calmly stepped to the line and knocked down the first attempt to tie the game at 14-14. He would miss the second free throw, but that did not diminish how important that first shot was to tie the game up. Following a Heat timeout, it was their turn to see if they could regain the lead. Heat star and Player of the Game, Asher Langwell, maneuvered his way down the court and was fouled with 22.8 seconds remaining. Much like he had done all evening, Langwell stepped up to the line and drilled both free throws, giving the Heat a 16-14 lead which they would end up holding onto. In his post-game interview, he explained that he was confident he could make those free throws because he had already knocked down some free throws earlier in the game and he practices those types of pressure-situation shots all the time. Zekman led the Lakers with 6 points, Caleb Starr added 4 points, and Brady Klein and Ethan Tigay each added 2 points. Asher Langwell paced the Heat with 10 points, Jace Bernard and Kayla Hairston each added 3 points. It was a tough way to finish the season for the Lakers (4-1), but they fought hard and certainly could have come out on top in this game. For the Heat (5-0), they finish the season undefeated and as Rookie League Champions!
A Note from the League Director: On behalf of the Pistons Academy and Franklin Athletic Club, I would like to thank all of our Rookie League players, parent(s), families, and friends for a wonderful Winter 2017 season. We are hopeful that you and your child had a positive experience, and we hope to see you back on the court very soon! Go Pistons!