The last week of February every year means heartbreak for some, jubilation for others.
Basketball fans know what I’m talking about. It’s the postseason for high school teams. Months of games prepare both boys and girls teams for the ultimate three-game stretch. Win your sub-district and district title game and your ticket gets punched to join the elite in Lincoln for the state tournament.
This year, our community won’t be represented at the state tournament, although not for lack of trying.
Last week, in the span of three days, I witnessed the Elgin boys and the Pope John girls come up short on the scoreboard. For those teams, the season ended far too soon.
For the Eagles, the Red Devils gymnasium turned into a ‘Dodgeball’ court.
A 10-point lead early in the third quarter dissipated as the Pirates forced the Eagles to play ‘Dodgeball’. The success Elgin had produced throughout the season, good enough for 19 victories, suddenly disappeared as the Pirates did the unthinkable. They, inexplicably, started forcing the Eagles to commit costly turnovers and forced errant shots. When it mattered most, the Eagles couldn’t get an offensive rebound.
Momentum shifted to the Pirates in the second half, never more so than the final minutes of the fourth quarter. As they protected the slimmest of leads until the clock expired.
It’s rare, but every now and then a less-talented team will defeat a good team. Dodge entered the game with an 11-10 record. They exited the court with a victory nobody expected them to achieve except for their players, coaches and fans in the stands.
Two nights later, Pope John’s girls played Ewing for a trip to state. The Tigers led by seven-eight points for most of the game. But, just as in their other loss to Pope John at the NVC Tournament, they couldn’t put away the Lady Crusaders down the stretch.
Kasi Stoltz’s basket as time expired at the end of regulation not only knotted the score but electrified the blue-clad fans and players.
Then, in overtime, Pope John nearly rallied from a five-point deficit in the final minute only to see the game slip away in the game’s final 11 seconds.
Some believed, going into the game, that Ewing would dominate the Lady Crusaders on a neutral court. Credit the fine coaching of Seth Kallhoff and assistant Duane Kuhlman for using their timeouts wisely to thwart Ewing’s growing momentum in the second half. K2 came up with a great defensive scheme, forcing the Tigers to try and beat Pope John from the outside. The strategy nearly worked.
At the other end of the court, the ball bounced around the rim then bounced out on several shots which meant the difference between victory and defeat.
What was great about these young ladies? They never quit, no matter how far behind they fell. They didn’t want their season to end. The joy of playing the game never escaped their faces until the game was finally over. Yes, to use an expression which is used far too often when it’s not necessarily true, this time it was true — they gave their ‘all.’
Now that the games are over, the basketballs will be put away. But what we do not know at this time is this — Will this be the last postseason for Elgin and Pope John’s varsity basketball teams? If a sports co-op agreement can be reached before the end of March, Elgin and Pope John could have played their last basketball games as separate schools. We’ll have to wiat and see what happens in the weeks ahead.