A coach whose opinion I value once told me when you’re leading a struggling basketball team, come tournament time, two things can happen, and both are pretty good.
As many of you know I have been helping coach a little league girls basketball team for a couple years now and struggling only scratches the surface of our play most of the time.
But then last week it happened. Playing with only five players — my oldest broke her leg in a game last Tuesday night that kicked off a stretch of four games in five days to end the regular season — my kids flipped a switch I haven’t seen.
In retrospect it might have been obvious that it was coming the night Sarai was injured. Twice we actually ran a pick off an inbound play correctly, got the ball to the right girl, and both times Jordyn Krigbaum buried a shot.
Those buckets made the final of that game at least respectable.
Back on the floor less than 24 hours later I looked up and saw something I had never seen — my team was in the lead. We had been tied before but there we were with a bigger number on our side of the scoreboard than our opponent.
Oh, and did I mention John Leslie’s team had beaten us by 16 the first time we played.
As the game dragged on we held the lead for a while, but lost it, only to retie it before a buzzer beater put us behind to start the second half.
All of a sudden Harmony Clarin, Kailynn Cotton, Katelynn Schuer and the Parrish who still had two functioning legs, Carlee, were fighting for rebounds — and winning the battles — they were running down loose balls, stepping into passing lanes for interceptions and running the floor.
Man card be darned, I actually teared up once or twice watching them give it all they had. Every time they had an opportunity to tire, every time they had an opportunity to check it in because the going got tough, they instead bounced back to pull even or go ahead.
It was still tied with under minute to go when a missed free throw by an opponent led to a rebound putback and a two-point deficit.
Unfazed Jordyn got back to the free throw line herself for a one-and-one and scored her 10th point to make it a one point game.
Maybe I should have warned you a few hundred words ago that the ending was more Friday Night Lights than Mighty Ducks, but I wanted you to get a feel for how hard they played before the tears.
The tears were real, and not just because they are used to everything going their way, but because they really felt like they could win. That has seldom been the case, if ever.
It was then I realized I had unintentionally disrespected a couple of little league coaches over the years because the truth is, it was killing me, ever so slowly, as my little Fab Five wiped away the pain.
One more note, I was also quite impressed with the sportsmanship with Leslie’s girls who actually came to see Sarai after the game. Yes, kids of both teams attend Magazine Schools, but sportsmanship is not a given in little league.
Remember I said it was a busy week. Though we had played a pair of makeup games — the weather has been less than kind — there was a scheduled game coming in about 24 hours as well as one more to be played on Saturday.
As if to prove that the previous night was not a fluke my little pills — okay they are the Capsules since a Walmart pharmacists bought the uniforms — went out and jumped ahead of a team from Booneville that is playing extremely well.
Yes we lost again, but later in Thursday Leslie’s team took another team that had been playing extremely well, to overtime before losing.