Story:Crash Landing - FCAA Round 2

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Crash Landing - FCAA Round 2
Written by Kyuji

The first round of the FCAA Tournament proved that no team is safe. Fifteen of the final thirty-two teams are double-digit seeds.Three of the four 1 seeds fell. Pinion State was the lone survivor of the normally foolproof 1-16 matchup. They faced off against defending national champs Winchester University, a team that the Aviators defeated 87-85 back in late December on their home court. It was one of the best games of the year, alongside Pinion-MMU. The moment the brackets were revealed, everyone lamented it would have to be a second-round game with the seeding system changed. Pundits put it as one of the most hypeable matchups of the tourney.

Sunday's rematch lived up to those expectations and then some.

In a game that will no doubt be on FSPN classic years from now, guards Luke Dunbroch (Grizzly Bear) and Barbara Weiser (Beagle) needed everything they and their teammates could muster to overcome a herculean effort from Saphira Kelley (Blue Ocean Slug) and the Pinion State Aviators, winning an incredible game 100-98 that was only sealed when Kelley's final halfcourt heave missed by the narrowest of margins. The game featured 29 lead changes, 19 ties, and the final minute alone saw the lead change hands a staggering seven times. Neither team led by more than five points.

Kelley put up an absurd 55 points on 19-27 shooting, including a remarkable 14-19 from beyond the arc, adding six assists and a rebound. In that decisive final minute, she made four of her five shots, but the final missed shot is what will define her season - and likely haunt her for the rest of her career.

Following a Dunbroch basket with two seconds remaining, and with no timeouts, Kieran Langford inbounded the ball toward Kelley, who broke away from her defender and ran all alone down the right side of the court. She had time to catch the ball sixty feet from the hoop, dribble twice, pick up the ball and leap off her left foot and make one desperate, yet controlled shot toward the basket, a mere tenth of a second before the buzzer sounded. The shot angle was perfect; it hit the backboard flush and caught the inside of the front rim as it went down. However, the power was just barely too much; once it caught the rim, it bounced upward on its way back toward the backboard, clanking off the back of the rim and falling harmlessly over the front iron, to the floor.

Winchester University's title defense remained intact, and Kelley fell to her knees, tears immediately gushing out of her eyes while Winchester's players rejoiced at midcourt and the Aviators collected around their freshman point guard. She had been so clutch for them, making eleven game-winning or tying shots in the final five seconds of a game, or overtime period. Unfortunately, her attempt at a twelfth was a hair too heavy-handed, and just like that, her season was over, and rumors immediately began to swirl that the slug would leave school and put her name in the FBA Draft.

"I feel like my heart got ripped out of my chest," Kelley explained in post-game interviews, stifling sobs. "It doesn't matter that I scored fifty-five points tonight. I'd rather score five in a win, than put up more than half of our team's points and lose. I let the Aviators down. I'm sorry." Tears streaked down her face as Langford took her in a sidearmed hug and squeezed her tightly, letting the slug cry for several seconds before the pair walked away, Kelley apologetically waving goodbye to the interviewers as the two left.

If it truly is the end to Saphira Kelley's collegiate career, while she only played a season, she's certainly left a lasting impression. She had six games of 50+ points, with four of those coming in games against teams seeded in the top four of their region. Kelley made a tweet postgame suggesting that the shot was indeed the final one of her time in college, along with apologies to her teammates and a response to several photographers who had captured moments of her crying both on-court and in the interview rooms, that she hoped the photos would "go viral."

Pinion State finishes the year 31-3, and loses only one senior from their team, but will likely see their most dynamic playmaker in Saphira Kelley leave for the FBA.

Winchester University continues their title defense against Two Points University, though let no doubt show that the bullseye is now squarely on their backs as the highest remaining seed.

-Arun Jamison, Snowhoot Media

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