It’s been a rather slow, uneventful winter sports season. Until the last week, that is. I’ve been working a little less, as the family schedule has been busier this year than in the past. And I’ve been lucky enough to cover our best girls basketball team more than any other squad. So a lot of solid games to write about, but not a ton of stories to share.
Things first got interesting last Wednesday, when I headed south for a boys basketball game on a snowy night. I knew the roads were slushy and slick in spots, but probably left about 5–10 minutes later than I should have. Still, as I traveled the clock kept showing me getting to the school just before 7:30, regular basketball tip time in Indiana.
And here’s the thing: unless there is not a JV game, varsity contests never begin at exactly 7:30. The JV game usually runs until 7:15 or so, then it takes a few minutes to clear the court and get the ok to start the 20-minute clock for varsity warm ups. Then there are introductions, the national anthem, and often some kind of presentation crammed in as well. Add it all together and, more often than not, the varsity game is tipping closer to 7:40, if not later.
Well, as I got closer to IHS, the roads got worse. I slipped and slid into the parking lot at exactly 7:30. When I ran inside, the lady running the ticket table said to me, “You guys always make it just in time.” I told her I was worried about being late, and she responded, “Don’t worry. You made it.” I signed in, thanked her, walked into the gym, and looked at the clock.
There were three minutes left in the first quarter.
They didn’t just start on time, they started early.
Never, in eight seasons of covering high school sports, have I missed the beginning of a football or basketball game. And here I was, at a game that I expected to be both very good and very close, missing the first four minutes and change.
Fortunately it was a three-point game at the time so I had not missed a decisive run. I was able to get to the press table and begin taking notes before the quarter ended. Any chance at a full box score was gone, but I could rely on the official book for scoring totals.
I admit, though, I was completely flustered. I never really got a feel for the game. How many shots had the kid who hit four-straight taken and made/missed before I walked in? Did a key player pick up two fouls in the first four minutes and that changed the attack of his team? So many details I was missing.
Fortunately, it was a game between two county teams, so afterward I talked to both coaches, got some good quotes, and built most of my story around their words and some highlights by the game’s best player, who scored 22 points.
I got home safely after but did not feel good about the night.
Last night I went out to cover a girls first round sectional game. Long-time readers of the site will remember by friends down at EHS. Somehow I had missed them, in both girls and boys hoops, all season. As I waited for the night’s first game to wrap up, the boys coach walked over, said hello, and gave me grief about getting paid double to watch this game.
Anyway, EHS won four games in the regular season, and were playing a Baptist school that had 13 wins. The catch, though, was many of the Baptists’ wins came against home school teams and other non-state athletic association schools. The computer ratings said EHS was a one-point favorite. Watching warm ups, that seemed accurate. EHS wasn’t great, but they were athletic and seemed to have a general plan. Their opponents looked terrible. My general rule is if a team looks bad in high school basketball warm ups, odds are they’ll suck when the game begins.
That held after tip off. The Baptists hit a quick 3-pointer and then EHS ripped off a 26–0 run over the next 11+ minutes. The Baptists missed 21-straight shots. EHS was drilling threes, getting steals, and converting transition layups. After all the painful games I had watched this school play over the years, I was finally getting to see them not only rout someone else, but do so in the state playoffs. I began mentally writing my story, lauding how they bounced back from a terrible start to the season against a very tough schedule to bring a two-game winning streak in sectionals and get a big first-round win. The lead was 25 at the half.
Then someone decided to switch teams at the break. Or something like that. The Baptists, who looked half-asleep in the first half, began trapping in the half court and pressing in full court. They got a steal and a score. Then another. Then another. They opened the third with an 8–0 run. By the end of the quarter, the lead was down to 12.
To start the fourth, the Baptists got a 9–0 run. The lead was down to three. EHS couldn’t get the ball inbounds, let alone find a good shot. They turned the ball over 20 times in the first 11 minutes of the half. And the Baptists’ best player  was knocking down 25-foot 3-pointers and drawing fouls each time she went into the lane. The far side of the gym was full of screaming fans, loving the come back. Behind me, the EHS parents were either yelling at the refs, or sitting in shock. I was sitting directly behind the EHS bench and during a time out, I could see that the girls had moved beyond anger and confusion. They were flat out scared. There wasn’t a sign of confidence in any of them. If someone asked me to lay money on who would win the game during that time out, I would have put serious cash on the Baptists.
I began dreading writing the story of how EHS blew a 25-point lead and having to ask their coach what happened.
Thank goodness, then, that they came out and got two straight scores at the rim, then hit free throws late to win by 11.
The cherry on top of the night was, between a later start, lots of fouls and time outs, an injury, and a technical foul that involved a huddle by the officials to determine the shooting order of the free throws, I had about 45 minutes to write. Less, after knocking out the stats and putting the box together. Which bummed me out. I still think there was a good story in there, but I couldn’t find it in the limited time I had.
Some nights a story comes together on its own. Other nights, my brain runs through the key elements of the game and struggles to find that really good central thread that ties it all together. Last month I had a game that went to overtime and left me about 15 minutes to write a game story. It ended up being one of my best of the year. I think last night’s game deserved something of that quality.
Baring some surprises this week, that was likely my final girls game of the year. The boys are still a couple weeks from playoffs, and I have a swimming sectional on my calendar already.