Down by three points, hearts are racing, time is running out%. Crosby Ironton was controlling the basketball game. Since tipoff the game had been close, but now we’re in trouble. Our star player was struggling, not having a single point in the game. The team was struggling to pull down rebounds. At least our defence was pretty solid. Sitting on the bench my body was shaking as the sweat dripped from my face. I was praying we would come away with a win.
The day before the game I had endured much anticipation. Practice was easy, all we did was scrimmage to prepare us for gameday. Since I was a sophomore, I was preparing myself for two halves of junior varsity (JV) and one half of varsity. That day in practice I rolled my ankle. It wasn’t an actual sprain, just tweaked it enough to feel discomfort. I walked it off and applied some ice, and told myself I was going to play tomorrow.
I stayed after practice to shoot a few free-throws. It was something I did almost every night before a game. It was a way to mentally prepare myself for the game to come. While I was shooting, Tina, our head coach, came into the gym and asked if I could speak with her in the coach's office.Worried that she was going to bench me because of my ankle, I was nervous to talk to her. I walked into her office with sweaty palms as she asked me to shut the door. All the coaches were seated in the office, and I just knew they were concerned about having me play on a “bad” ankle. I turned out to be completely wrong.
Tina, the head coach, asked me to take a seat across from her at her desk. While I sat in the cold metal chair, my legs were shaking. She spoke to me with a calm voice. She started to explain the new foul rules to me, and how she was worried that our starting guards were going to get into foul trouble. That’s when she asked me to play two halves of varsity and one half of JV. I was so relieved. I felt as if the little doubts that were choking me inside died and confidence was born.
I was so excited to be given this opportunity, a chance to prove to her I could be a valuable player. I went home that night excited about sharing the good news with my dad. Especially since he is the one that has spent hours of extra time in the gym with me. When I told him the good news, I could just feel the grin on my face lifting more into a smile, which made him beam with joy as he gave me a high-five. He told me to get a good night sleep so I could be on top of my A game against Crosby Ironton.
All throughout the day I just couldn’t wait to gear up and play basketball. Since it was a friday the day couldn’t have gone any slower. Finally the school bell rang and the game was just hours away. A few teammates and I went out and ordered the two for one smoothie deal at Beyond Juice. This became our friday game day tradition. We returned to the school just in time for the start of the C-squad game. Right after the C-squad halftime the JV team went into the locker room to dress for our game.
Warm up was energizing. Drilling most of my shots, I felt confident. Tipoff came and my blood was rushing. All throughout the first half I had many open looks. However, I missed every single one. Feeling disgusted with my shooting performance I was worried about the varsity game. Varsity requires so much more from an athlete. It requires one to make their shots, something I was struggling to do in the JV game.
While the varsity team was getting ready to go do our stretching in the hallway a parent stopped me for a brief moment. She told me not to worry about the JV game, and that my shot will come in just a matter of time. Those words of encouragement helped remind me of the player I am, and realize why coach chose me to play two halves for her.
Loosened up and ready to go, game time was just minutes away. In the locker room we listened to Tina, as she gave us the game plan.
#“Man to man defence tonight.” Tina spoke with such a calm yet confidence voice. “Box out and get the rebounds. Hope and Katie you two are going to release back on defence.”
Katie quickly spoke up “Yeah, we have to keep an eye on Cyan, number 10, she’s fast.”
Tina continued to talk about the game and what she expects from each of us. She then handed over the spotlight to the assistant coach Mike.
Mike spoke out loud and affirmative “Katie you have number 11. Hope you have number 10. Gabie you have number 15. Bria you have number 40. Megan you have 34.”
I listened closely knowing I could be guarding either Hope or Katie’s girl. Knowing who I could potentially be guarding helped me mentally prepare for defence. My dad has always been a firm believer that defence comes from within, it comes from the heart.
“Bring it in!” Tina said loudly
We all gathered together clapping our hands and shaking out the last of our nerves.
Katie shouted “PANTHERS ON THREE! ONE! TWO! THREE!”
“PANTHERS!” we shouted back in unison.
We all took our turn running out of the locker room high-fiving each coach as we ran by them, and right as we got to the door we jumped up and slapped our team poster that hung above us, it’s for good luck so no one questioned it, we just did it.
We all line up for the National Anthem. All of us standing there with our hands behind our backs, awaiting the starting lineup announcements. While the Anthem plays I sway back and fourth, locking and unlocking my knees, singing along just to rid myself of the last of my nerves. As soon as the anthem ends our starters take off their warmups, grab a panther t-shirt, and sit down on the bench. The rest of the team lines up, and makes a pathway for the starter to run through to meet a single player at the end for their handshake. The visiting team, the Crosby Ironton Rangers, were announced first then the home team, the Panthers, were announced second.
It’s game time.
Crosby Ironton won the tip-off. After that it’s just a game of hot potato. Back and forth, back and forth, and no scoring. Open looks down low were missed, open looks midrange were missed. Everything put up was a brick. However, about five minutes into the game, Crosby Ironton had a player go down with a knee injury. It was number 15, the girl Gabbie was guarding. The Rangers decided to sub in number 14, she was quick, so that forced us to make a switch. Hope took number 14, and Gabbie took number 10.
About 12 minutes into the game coach looked down the bench and pointed at me, she told me to go sub in for Hope. I didn’t have much time to process that I was actually subbing in for my first varsity game. I ripped off my warm-up, tapped the scores table and ran onto the court to sub in for Hope. Guarding number 14 wasn’t easy, she was definitely quick, but so was I. Offence was going to be the real test for me.
Crosby played mostly in a zone defence. I love when teams play a zone defence because it open up the three-point shot. My favorite shot. However, the first half was almost over and the only three pointers I had shot up were both misses. The first one was a complete air ball, and the second one was a brick. I was mortified. Yet, all my jitters had left with that air ball, and brick shot. I was starting to regain confidence. With just minutes left in the first half I finally made my first three pointer of the game. When it went through the hoop, I felt as if I was floating on clouds. Super ecstatic I made my first varsity bucket. After a little bit more of back and forth basketball, the halftime buzzer went off. Panthers lead the Rangers 22-19.
Entering the gym after halftime we could smell the sweat that just lingered in the hot gym*. The entire second half consisted of lots of fouling, and minimal scoring. I made my second three pointer early on. Then hit my third midway into the half with a single miss in between. Those shots weren’t enough though. The Rangers started to take control of the basketball game. Out scoring us 18-12, things were looking down. We were playing the best defence we could, especially since they dominated a 4 corner offence. What were we do to?
Sweat dripped from my skin that glistened under the gymnasium lights. My feet were beginning to swell from lacing my shoes too tight. Looking at the clock my stomach dropped. The time just kept running out, and we were down by three points. Praying we would get a stop with the ball back before it was too late, was all we could pray for. Finally the whistle blew, dead ball, our ball. Tina calls a quick timeout. Everything after that seemed to move in slow motion.
Mike grabs my shoulder “Macky go check in for Hope. Now!”
I ran over to the scores table to sub in for Hope. On my way back to the huddle I glanced up at the scoreboard. That was the first of many glances up at the time ticking disaster. Down 34-37, with 24.8 seconds left, I already knew what the game plan was.
“Get the ball to Macky. Macky you’re going to shoot the three pointer. No hesitation.” Tina said loudly, trying to talk over the music that’s playing.
All I could do was nod my head since the words stuck to my tongue. Shaking with anticipation I glanced at each face in the huddle. Each one showing a different expression. The buzzer went off telling us to wrap up our huddle. Tina continued to talk. Eventually the referee came over “Coach you need to wrap it up. Let’s get this game going.”
Tina pulled us in. With all of our hands together at the center Katie yelled “PANTHERS ON THREE! ONE! TWO! THREE!”
“PANTHERS!” we all shouted back.
Walking back onto the court I could hear my heavy breathing and heart pounding. My clammy hands laid by my sides shaking. My eyes wandered over to the crowd. The student section having a good time, yet waiting in anticipation for the game to resume. I made eye contact with my dad. Something in his face told me I could do it. Something in his eyes told me that he and everyone else believes in me, and that I should believe in myself too.
Crosby took their positions on defence. Surprisingly they dropped back into a zone, instead of going into a full court press. Our two players who went down to pass in the ball were Katie and Gabie. Megan and Bria joined me on the other end of the court, to set up the offence. The referee blew the whistle and handed the ball to Gabie. Gabie then preceded by rolling the ball to half court where Katie picked it up. The clocked resumed. Katie whipped a hard pass to me on the right wing, where I was standing just behind the three point line. When I caught the pass I could feel the smooth leather of the ball in my hands, and how weightless the ball felt*. I went to set up my shot but number 10 for the Rangers was right there to stop it. Instead I faked a shot and passed it into the corner to Bria. Clock was running out. Bria put down a hard dribble then brought it up for a quick fake shot. She faked out the defence and was able to hit me with a firm pass. As soon as the ball hit my hands I knew I was going to shoot it.
I took a single dribble which allowed me to move to the left giving me separation from the defence. I picked up the ball after the dribble and began to set my shot. I cocked my arm back to where the ball rested in my right palm, covering part of my right eye, and had my left palm on the side just to guide it. I began to release the shot my arm going out into the shape of a goose neck. The leather of the ball rolled off my fingers so smoothly. Just as the ball left the tips of my fingers I could feel the defender fly past, trying to block the shot%. It was too late. As the ball floated in the air towards the hoop it felt like forever, but I just knew it was going to go through the netting.
The crowd stood up roaring in excitement*. Everyone on the bench left their chairs jumping in awe. The basketball game was tied with 9.3 seconds left. Crosby Ironton reacted by calling a timeout. I glanced at the fans, going crazy over the shot I had just made*. Seeing my parents high-fiving, and laughing with joy brought tears to my eyes*. I quickly turned my attention to the bench. To my coach, Tina. Finally letting out a deep breath over what just happened.
Every tense muscle in my body relaxed. Every ache and pain went away. All my doubts were pushed down the gutter. Realizing this game was now ours. I could already taste the victory*. All throughout the timeout my heart was pounding hard against my chest. My ears were ringing with all the excitement*. I just did what I believed was the impossible.
The game resumed and Crosby didn’t get a shot off. They actually happened to turn the ball over. Megan intercepted the pass and almost made a shot. Time ran out and we went into overtime. Coach kept Katie, Megan, Bria, Gabie, and me in for the whole overtime. That whole 4 minutes was quite the nail bitter. The Rangers fouled Katie with 3.6 seconds left, with the game tied at 41-41. Katie made the first free throw and missed the second. Yet, 3.6 seconds wasn’t enough time for the Rangers to do anything.
Panthers had won the game.
After we shook hands with Crosby Ironton, we had one last team huddle for the night. Each player itching to celebrate with their friends and family. After a few quick words Tina finally shouted “Bring it in!”
Katie shouted as loud as she could “PANTHERS ON THREE! ONE! TWO! THREE!’
“PANTHERS!” we shouted back loud and proud.
I ran through through the fans to get to my parents. Each fan congratulating me on my big game tying shot. Eventually I made it through the thrilling chaos. Seeing my dad brought tears to my eyes. I jumped into his arms embracing his comfort. The tears ran down my cheeks.
“You did it.” he said calmly
“Yeah I did. All that hard work finally paid off.” I replied through the sniffles.
“I told you it would.” he said as he gave me one last big squeeze.