Friday, March 7, 2014

2014 H.S. Basketball Playoffs: Wall vs Brock Girls State Final

Well, the Wall High School Lady Hawks made it to the big show, the Class 2A State Basketball Final against Brock High School. This is the second time in four years the Lady Hawks would play for the Class 2A title. They lost to Brock back in 2010 and are now trying to exact some revenge on the 5-time defending state champions. Let me rephrase that, they were just trying halt Brock's dominance in Class 2A. "Exact some revenge" seems to be to harsh of a term as I know there is not a single vengeful bone among the lot of them. If you spend any time with these young ladies you'll come to understand that they are a very laid back group that just wants to play good basketball.

Standard-Times sports reporter Carlos Silva and I arrived at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin about an hour early so we could get settled in our respective media areas. As I was making my way the arena floor I caught the Lady Hawks coming down the entrance ramp on their way to the locker room. They were as casual as could be considering they were playing for a state championship. No fanfare, not overly excited, no talking for that matter. Just focused on the task at hand. They were going to need that focus if they were going to dethrone Brock.

After the player introductions and national anthem observed, it was time to get down to business. And the Lady Hawks were all business. With a solid three-point line and paint defense, Wall was able to hold off what could have been a hole they couldn't get out of. Brock is dangerous on the perimeter and before you know it, you can find yourself down in a hurry. Wall was up 13-4 at the end of the first half. I remember back in 2010, the last time I covered the Lady Hawks in the state final, how nervous I was and, quite frankly, how impressed I was with the level of play Brock showed. Not this year. I had this feeling deep down that Wall was going to pull this out. But as any championship team will do, Brock went on a 11-7 run in the second quarter and cut the deficit to 20-15 at the half.

At halftime I would normally go back to the media workroom and edit a few photos, trying to get a head start on sending photos back to the office. But because this was the state final there was more media there taking up shooting space on the floor so instead I ran down to the other end of the floor to take up residence in a space recently vacated by another photographer. This gave me time to think about what might be taking place in the locker rooms. For some reason I figured there would be a lot of noise in the Brock looker room, yelling from the coach who was quite spirited on the sideline and heads-in-hands from starting players who were in foul trouble.

But for the Wall locker room I imagined something different. Even though they were ahead by five points a more quite, reserved and calm atmosphere seemed to be more their style. I imagined water bottles being passed around, head coach Tate Lombard standing in the middle of the room with a small white board drawing out plays and trainers picking up towels used to dry hands and faces. And just before they were to head back out onto the floor after their final instructions, the Lady Hawks would stand and circle their around their coach and in a quite voice Coach Lombard would say, "Do you believe? Because I believe in you. Your town believes in you. Believe in each other."

All of that is complete fantasy of course as I was not actually in the locker room. I guess it's just a sappy homage to that scene in the movie "Hoosiers" where the boys form Hickory are about to take the floor for the second half of the state championship against a team that, on paper, was superior. You know the scene I'm talking about, where the players have encircled Gene Hackman and he looks every one of them in the eye and then whispers, "I love you guys." Dang, that scene hits me in the heart every time.

As the second half began the noise coming from the Wall fans was almost deafening. They were psyched. And the Lady Hawks would have to feed off of that excitement because Brock started to make a steady comeback. Brock trailed by 10 points at the start of the fourth quarter and immediately went on a 8-0 run to bring the Lady Eagles within a one-possession (46-44) of tying up the game with just 12 seconds left in the game. Fortunately, Wall sophomore post Maddi Chitsey was fouled, giving her an opportunity at the free-throw line, Wall's bread-and-butter scoring opportunity throughout the entire tournament.  Standard-Times sports reporter Carlos Silva described the scene in his game story this way:

     It turned out the Lady Hawks needed two solid right hooks - or free throws in this instance - to knock the five-time defending state champion from its perch.

     Wall's Maddi Chitsey walked up to the free-throw line with her team leading 46-44 with seven seconds left to play in the fourth quarter and readied to put up her first attempt.

     Swish.

     And the sophomore post followed it up with another make that was dead center.

     Knockout.

     "Yes, those were the most nerve-wracking ones I've ever taken," Chitsey said, smiling.

Pretty good, right? Now up 48-44 with just seven seconds on the game clock, The Wall Lady Hawks were on their way to earning the school's first state championship title. When the final buzzer sounded the Wall bench and fans went nuts. Que "Hoosiers" movie-ending victory music. The players all ran out onto the court to celebrate with me and my cameras in tow. I wasn't even sure if I was allowed on the court, but I didn't care. As I was circling the fray snapping photos I could hear shouts of "We did it!" and "We're state champions!"

Man, what a cool moment. During the halftime of the next game the Lady Hawks were presented with their state medals and championship trophy and Maddi Chitsey was named as the Class 2A Tournament MVP. Maddi and her older sister Bobbi shared a brief hug as she was presented a plaque. It was a great weekend all around and I'm sure we'll be seeing more of this team making deep playoff runs in the future. Fortunately, all of these ladies are young and have many more "championship titles" to earn in life. Some of them will go off to be champions for their future families, or some will be champions in business and industry, maybe education or politics. But every single one of them will be able to look back and say they were the first state champions for their little town in dusty West Texas.

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