Karen stood at the free throw line, all alone, except for a referee. Fans were lining three walls of the gym. Many fans in the stands, including her parents, were standing. One of her parents was busy saying, “Win or lose, what a great game!” The other parent had his head in his hands, determining what he would say to his daughter if she missed. Her fellow middle schoolers, the boys’ soccer teams and the “B” basketball team, were watching, some wagging their fingers at Karen for luck. The gym was surprisingly quiet. The referee leaned over, whispered something to Karen, handed her the ball, and stepped away. Karen took the ball, dribbled twice, and let it go- the shot that would determine the winner of the championship game of the ISK middle school basketball tournament was up and…..
Well, let’s back up a bit.
Anisa and Karen’s middle school team, Rosslyn’s “A” team, enjoyed a very successful season this fall. They lost only one game, to Brookhouse, who conveniently “forgot” who they were playing and brought 15-year-olds to compete against our 11, 12, and 13-year olds. Rosslyn played very well as a team, passing the ball well, and there seemed to be nary an ego on the squad. They also seemed to improve every time out, and steamrolled most of the opposition.
On this, the last day of their season, they were at ISK for the final tournament of the year. They swept through pool play easily, winning their five games by the scores of 20-0, 18-4, 11-0, 10-4, and 22-2. (That’s 81-10 for those of you scoring at home.) By the way, each of these games were only 10 minutes long, stopped time, and according to tournament rules, on shooting fouls, the fouled player would get ONE free throw that would count for two points (to keep the game moving).
In the semifinals, the team dispatched Hillcrest and their two girls that stood 6-3 (Coach: “They are 13! Birth certificate? Oh, no, we don’t have them….”). Using their quickness and half court traps, they slipped past, 10-4.
Then the finals, against RVA’s “A” team, also undefeated throughout the day. Earlier in the season, Rosslyn had beaten RVA twice, but this was for all the marbles (well, for the bigger trophy and medals, anyway). RVA had gotten much better from earlier in the season, and in ten minutes, anything can happen, right?
Rosslyn jumped out to a 6-0 lead, and held it through 5 minutes of play. RVA chipped away, though, and made the score 6-2, then 6-4, and then on a very sketchy call by an official, hit a free throw to tie the game with a couple minutes left.
Rosslyn started to tighten up, and missed shot after shot at point blank range. RVA came down to their end and scored, putting Rosslyn down by two with a minute and half to play. Rosslyn continued to miss, and suddenly, RVA was on the free throw line with only THREE seconds left, still up by two.
The RVA shooter missed everything, which led to Rosslyn getting an inbounds play from just inside half court. Coach Jiv, out of timeouts, told Karen what she wanted her to do. Karen took the inbounds pass, took two hard dribbles towards the basket, and set to launch a three point shot- all or nothing. An RVA player came out to challenge the shot.
Ball blocked, horn blows, RVA begins to celebrate. But—- the referee called a foul! (To be fair, this call was pretty sketchy, too. From this fan’s angle, the play looked pretty clean.) The refs and the tournament director got together- is the free throw worth two, or, gulp, THREE? They decided that since Karen was fouled shooting a three, the free throw would, indeed, count for three.
Therefore, Karen was on the line, all alone on an empty court, shooting one free throw. A make would mean a 9-8 win; a miss would mean an 8-6 loss.
She took the ball from the ref, who whispered, “This is for three,” took two dribbles, and let it fly….
And it banked in.
The team exploded off the bench- Anisa ran out to Karen for the first celebratory hug. Mom and Dad turned to each other and just yelled. And then high-fived anyone who held up a hand. The team engulfed Karen, and even lifted her on to their shoulders for a bit. Her smile looked like it might split her face in two.
So, needless to say, this was an exciting weekend in the Leonard household. Whew. I need to get some sleep. – JL