Ashreinu won a razor-thin semifinals victory over Beitar Yerushalayim, while the Garden Rigs notched an upset over Tzionim on the other side of the bracket, to set up the championship game of the Red and Doctor Murray’s Israel Basketball League.
Ashreinu’s game against Beitar was a nail biter. It was Beitar who looked to be in control the first half, using their unparalleled athleticism, dead-on contested long-range shooting, and ability to get to the rim, to stay a step ahead throughout the period. Heading into the intermission, Beitar held a 27-22 advantage.
Ashreinu, however, never let things get out of hand, and in the second half slowly clawed their way back. With the score finally tied and under five minutes to play, Ashreinu sensed the opportunity, and went on the largest run of the night for either of the evenly matched teams, a seven-point rally, starting with a layup from Jared Frenkel, followed by a pair of foul shots, and topped off by a 3-pointer from Dovid Oratz, to seize the high ground with under two minutes to play. Beitar fought back to within a pair, but with time running out were forced to send Ashreinu to the line.
As if to prove the old coaches adage that “foul shots wins games”, Ashreinu knocked down 9 of 9 from the charity stripe in the last minute, then with a 55-54 lead and one second on the clock, intentionally missed the final foul shot, thereby precluding a potential game-tying shot, and sounding the final buzzer.
Ashreinu was led by Dovid Oratz (12 points, 5 assists), Justin Hod and Daniel Jonas (11 points apiece), and defensive stand-out Josh Goldstein, while Beitar’s offense was fueled by MVP candidate Judah Cohen’s 24 points.
In the other semifinal, Garden Rigs dealt Tzionim their first loss of the year. The Tzionim were returning to the Final Four for the second straight year, and after a heartbreaking overtime defeat in last year’s championship game, and after an undefeated regular season this year, were caught on an off-night at the worst possible time.
Garden Rigs led from the tip-off, patiently found cracks in the defense, and handled the Tzionim bigs’ attack and on the boards. Garden’s Zirman had his best game of the year, with 22 points, playing a complete game.
In the “AFI Cup” Tier Two Semifinals, Vince’s Peanuts and Feathers of Osedox had a tight battle until the end, with neither team able to pull away. With under 30 seconds remaining, Mordy Sheinbein of Vince’s Peanuts hit a jump shot, ultimately giving Vince’s the 59-58 victory.
The second semifinal pitted CCJ against Shaalvim. League insiders had named Shaalvim as the season’s “Cinderella Story”, but CCJ ended the fairy-tale, dominating on the boards en route to a 57-40 victory and a trip to the championship.