After an unbeaten season, the Esso Blazers are in foreign territory.
Esso suffered their first defeat of 2012 in game one of the division one playoffs for the Cayman Islands Basketball Association national men’s league. The Blazers are now one loss away from watching, instead of starring in, the finals.
Optimism remains high on the team, as head coach Shawn Pitterson states overseas players will bolster Esso’s chances.
“The Esso Blazers are on the road to the championship and I am ready for the challenge,” Pitterson said. “I am very grateful to the players for all the hard work and sacrifice that they’ve put into the team to make it possible.
“The majority of the players that are on the roster are back on Island, in recent years a few of our key players were off to college. Deandre (Simpson) and Shaad (O’Garro) are back from college earlier this year. Perry Levy and Nicholas Beverly were off Island for two years and I am grateful to have them back in the line-up.
“Other key players are Kevin Maxwell, Carlos Archibold, Jasen Campbell and Sammy O’Garro. We work very hard in practice. We are not only a team, we are family.”
Esso were the regular season champions after an 8-0 run while the Wolves were fourth at 3-5. However, that did not stop a 72-62 upset in game one last Sunday at Camana Bay’s Arts and Recreation Centre. Four players were in double digits for DHL as Gary ‘Butcher’ McLaughlin led all scorers with 20 points, eight rebounds and three steals. He had help from Dwight O’Garro (18 points, 18 rebounds, eight blocks), Earl Allen (15 points, four assists) and Sandi Jiminez (11 points, four rebounds).
The Blazers countered with Shaad O’Garro and his 18 points off four three-pointers, 15 rebounds, five assists, six steals. Kevin Maxwell added 17 points, 11 rebounds.
The first round best-of-three series now sees game two at Camana Bay on Sunday, 13 May, at 5.30pm. Esso will be looking to force a game three on 20 May.
Blazers assistant coach Carlos Pastor is from Miami and has been here nearly two years. The Puerto Rican did not witness Esso’s heartache three years ago when the Wolves beat them in the 2009 national finals for the first of two championships. Nevertheless, he feels Esso have the personnel to warrant their status as favourites.
“My sister played basketball in Puerto Rico and I tried to coach at the community college level in the US,” Pastor said. “I just love the game and I hope to see the fans (the rest of this series) as well. Hopefully we can give them some good games.
“Going undefeated felt great, to know we were all on the same page. Everyone was willing to sacrifice, stay together and reach that goal. But now it’s the Wolves, a top team for several years.
“Looking at the wins this season, it was all a team effort. No one was pointing fingers at each other. Everyone worked as a unit and that allowed us to achieve our goal. The chemistry, love and respect have taken us to this point. Now we have to finish it off.”