Thursday, January 24, 2013

What If Goliath Battled David on the Basketball Court?*

The “Southwest Tech Scourge”

Dear George,
I’ve been going to basketball games at Southwest Ohio Tech for a dozen years or more.  Partly it’s convenience – the team (nicknamed the Scourge) plays just a half-mile down the street from us.  Partly it’s because Southwest wins most of its games handily, and it’s easy and rewarding to be a fan of a top-ranked team. They’ve been a regional force for years, and they’ve gone to the national Junior College championship tournament numerous times.  They’ve made it to the championship game twice in the last five years, though they’ve yet to win the whole thing.  When I first started going to Southwest games, about half the players were from Greater Cincinnati.  Now, with a strong push toward national preeminence, the coach recruits from the entire Midwest.  This year’s team has players from Chicago, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Louisville, Akron, and Detroit, as well as two Cincinnati players.  The Scourge play a wide open offense, are pesky on defense, often score a hundred points or more, and are sheer fun to watch for their energy and skill.  

The “Pitney Torpedoes” warming up

The other night the opponent was Pitney Community College from Porterfield, Ohio. The game looked from the outset like sheep being led to the slaughter.  Porterfield’s a town of about 15,000, 90 miles northeast of Cincinnati in a predominantly rural area. Pitney’s student body is about one-seventh the size of Southwest’s.  Several of Pitney’s players are from Porterfield, and the rest are from small towns in a thirty-mile radius, e.g., Napton, Pleasant Hills, Zandelia.  The team is nicknamed the Torpedoes.  Its players are mostly white guys; the Scourge, all African-American guys (which doesn’t necessarily guarantee an outcome, but has some predictive power).  Southwest’s players were taller and looked to be stronger, faster, and more athletic.  Pitney’s won a few games this season, but has a middling record at best. Their center was chubby and under-sized; the point guard, short and scrawny.  Even the Pitney coach looked kind of mopy.  At one point in the warm-ups the Pitney team missed 20 practice shots in a row.  They must have been nervous.  I’m sure it was their most intimidating game of the year.

The game started off as you’d expect.  Southwest won the tip, raced down the floor and scored within seconds.  Pitney got the ball and promptly threw it out of bounds.  The Scourge made a three point shot.  The Torpedoes turned it over again.  And so on.  As the first half proceeded Southwest kept doubling the score: 6-3, 10-5, 17-8, 23-13, etc.  Toward the end of the first half Southwest cooled down a bit, perhaps out of boredom or decreased adrenalin, and the half came to an end with a 33-23 score.  I was just surprised the margin wasn’t larger.  There were lots of Pitney fans present, but the visitors became quieter and quieter as the game went along.  

The half-time dance team

A local high school hip hop dance team performed at intermission, getting lots of applause.  As the second half got started, Southwest continued to pull away.  Katja was home sick in bed, and, since the game was effectively over, I decided to leave early. I figured I’d stay till the Scourge got 15 points ahead.  With about ten minutes left in the game, the score reached 49-33.  I thought to myself, they might as well cancel the rest of the game.  Just as I was gathering together my stuff, a Scourge player made an ill-advised pass, and a Pitney player raced down the floor and dunked the ball.  Then the same thing happened on the next possession.  I set my coat back down and decided to watch just a few more minutes.  Suddenly, however, the whole Southwest team seemed to come down with a seemingly contagious case of fumble-itis.  They literally had their passes intercepted on their next six possessions in a row, and Pitney scored on most of them.  The Surge’s lead kept shrinking – 14 points, 11 points, 9 points, etc.  I didn’t know if the Scourge were tired (they only had 8 players suited up), distracted, or even flu-ridden, but their level of play got worse and worse.  On the other hand, the more errors the Scourge made, the more energized the Torpedoes became, and their fans starting cheering at the top of their voices.  Then, the Torpedo players started hitting long three point shots for the first time in the game – one, two, three in a row. 

The Scourge mascot, undoubtedly worried

With three minutes left on the clock, the score was suddenly tied.  I don’t think anybody in the gym—fans or players on either team -- believed that such a huge comeback could be happening.  Pitney took the lead by one point; then a Scourge player made a 15-foot shot to regain the lead.  Pitney moved back to a one-point lead from a pair of free throws, and then, with thirty seconds to go, the Scourge went up, 65-64.  I still felt pretty relaxed.  As close as the game had become, I was convinced there was no possibility that Southwest could lose.  The Torpedoes came down the floor, passed the ball around, and one of the Torpedo guards got open and made a 10-foot shot from the sideline.  The score was 66-65 Pitney with only three seconds to go.  The Pitney fans were jumping up and down and screaming nonstop.  The Scourge threw the ball inbounds, and one of their guards made a desperation shot from midcourt.  It bounced off the top of the backboard, stopping the clock at 0.3 seconds.  With less than half a second left, Pitney got the ball back, and their player wisely heaved the ball as far down the court as he could throw it, which would make it impossible for the Scourge to get back and get off a shot.  However, the ball hit the ceiling and again was ruled out of bounds.  Because no time had gone off the clock, Southwest got the ball back under their own basket with 0.3 seconds still left.  The gym fell silent.  I’m sure everyone was wondering whether the Scourge could pull off a miracle.  Hypothetically, Southwest could toss the ball in off a player’s fingers and into the basket in only a fraction of a second.  The gym was so quiet you could hear a pin drop.  The Scourge player threw the ball inbounds to his tallest teammate, but the play didn’t work -- the buzzer sounded before the guy could get a shot off.  Miracle of miracles, Pitney had won, 66-65.  Everyone stared at the scoreboard, and no one moved for a second.  Then I don’t think I’ve ever seen a sports team more excited than the Pitney Torpedoes.  All the players from the bench rushed onto the floor, as did the coaches.  Everybody jumped, hollered, ran in circles, gave one another high fives.  One guy lay on the floor, kicking his legs in the air.  The fans yelled and jumped up and down, shaking the floorboards of the stands.  The Southwest players looked deflated and in total disbelief as they slowly filed off the floor.  Their coach simply looked disgusted.  As a Scourge fan, it was disappointing -- definitely a blemish on the season’s record to date.    At the same time, I decided it was probably the most remarkable game I’d ever watched in person.  It reminded me of the Gene Hackman movie, Hoosiers, about an equally amazing basketball outcome.  These two teams could play a hundred games, and the Scourge would win 99 of them.  I’m sure that the Torpedo players will remember the victory and their individual roles in it for the rest of their lives.  It shows why sports can generate so much excitement.  You never know for sure what in the world is going to happen.  Even in real life, David can beat Goliath.  

*Pseudonyms are used in this story. 

G-mail Comments

-Gayle C-L (1-24): David,  Pretty cool!  Sounds very exciting!  I bet your heart was pumpimg the whole time.. Glad you had a great time..:)  Lots of love :)  G

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