It was The Return; the game that the boy played two nights after he sprained his ankle. He had practiced the night before, but the tendons and muscles were still very tendered and felt like they could tear at any second. He had at least two rolls of tape surrounding the injured animal.
Cedar Crest was playing Hempfield at home and the last time we had played them we were totally embarrassed. We had lost by atleast twenty points so we knew that had a chip on their shoulder. The team went through the pre-game speech which was never really impressive nor enthusiastic. We sensed that our coach was beginning to be happy knowing we only had one game left. We stretched before we went to the gym; loosing up the muscles that were tightened during the pep talk. We were going to do the same thing as we usually did in warm-ups but something felt different. As a captain he felt cajoled to talk to his teammates and pump them up. He had told them that they couldn’t lose their last home game and needed to show the Coach that they were better than what their record showed.
The tip-off wasn’t exciting, nor was the first quarter but the excitement was building. He only had 5 points in the first quarter and didn’t score at all in the second quarter but the game was very close, to close for Hempfield’s taste. They thought that we were scrubs, kids that weren’t even worth standing on the same court as they were.
Cedar Crest was only down by 5 at half time which was a great shock to the fans as well as to the players. Most expected to get killed, and when you lose a lot this thought process takes over the original process of thinking you are good and better than the other team. Coach’s pep talk and half time speech did not do anything for anyone except open their eyes a little. They were down by five to a “superior” team; we could hang with them.
Half time was over and the third quarter began. His ankle was throbbing through the tape and he believed that it was going to rip through his shoe and run off. He didn’t realize the strain he was putting on it and didn’t care. The other team knew this as well, being defended by their best, he hit two quick 3 pointers which put them down by one with a minute to go in the third quarter. His teammates were helping him, moving around, getting open and taking some of the pressure of him.
Hempfield went up by five with fifteen seconds left because of a dumb foul given by Cedar Crest. Cedar Crest came down with the ball and was quick not to rush anything. They set up a play and tried to execute it but it went bad, so improvising occurred.
He took the shot, that didn’t count, but went in as the buzzer went off. It should’ve been an easy four points because he was fouled on the shot and it went in, but the referees waved it off, and he returned to bench.
The fourth quarter began and Cedar Crest trailed the rest of the way and could not gain the lead back. They were down by three with twenty seconds left and had the ball. The opposition added pressure, but the boy, turned man knew how to deal with it. He handled it well and was fouled, and they started at the same point they began at the beginning of the season; the end line. He brought the ball to half court and took a shot that hit the front of the rim; to think he could have been his team’s savior. The game could have been tied up. The thought still haunts him today.
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