Coach's Corner

Part 3 of the Coach's trilogy on girls' high school basketball.

UIL part 3 The Goldthwaite Lady Eagles are, by harsh process of elimination, my team. For this trilogy to have a nice ending, little 2A Goldthwaite needed to win a state championship. This was not to be. The less said about the Eagles' opening-round loss to Farwell -- from a distant corner of the Panhandle -- the better. A plane crossed the sky over the Erwin Center this cool Friday morning dragging a "Go Goldthwaite" banner in the breeze. I hope the plane arrived home without mishap. The Lady Eagles didn't.

Let's start with a question: 24% is: a) The average first serve percentage of this writer? b) The daily essential adult vitamins in a box of corn flakes? c) The annual percentage of 2-foot putts missed by the same writer? d) The shooting percentage for the winning team in a semifinal state championship game? e) All of the above. The answer, sportsfans, is e.

For two weeks I've been extolling the beauty of high-school basketball. This was honest; I meant it. So is this: This was an awful basketball game -- hard fought, but bad basketball. How bad? I'm sitting next to a retired official in a wheelchair. She grumbles, "pitiful, pitiful, gawdawful pitiful." She requests -- understandably -- to be wheeled out at halftime. The second quarter, mercifully ending with a score of 15-14, sees a total of one basket. The first half was an incessant redundancy of barely forced turnovers and a cannonade of bazooked jump shots, from close in and far away, hitting most often not rim, or glass ... but nothing.

For this there is no easy explanation. Both teams start mostly seniors. I saw Goldthwaite play well last week. Farwell's tradition, and 28-6 record, say they're better than this. I'd like to report that things settled down in the second half, but you already know the winning team's shooting percentage. Goldthwaite's Vanessa Auldridge, a nice player, scores 19 of her team's total of 29 on a decent 8-19 morning. Even this is misleading. Most of her misses were wide-open looks. A 33-29 kid's-rec-league final score doesn't look so good in the year 2000.

But who am I to talk? My own strategy's no better than the Lady Eagles. At least they had a plan; I have none at all. It never occurs to me my team will lose. I have no, as they say in corporation land, exit strategy. Now what? I decide after three weeks of 2A watching that I need to see this through -- without the Lady Eagles.

In the next game I watch Brock, a team starting three sophomores and two freshmen, annihilate the defending champions, an experienced squad with a 30-2 record. Quite impressive. It was the general consensus around the press table, after the earlier debacle, that Brock -- young and very cocky, without a senior on the team -- would be the state champs.

Saturday at 2:30, the teams arrive at center court for the Championship intros. Brock's in their road Laker Blue and Gold. Farwell wears sport's coolest colors ... Toronto Maple Leaf satin white with royal blue trim. On paper it seems like too-young Brock stands no chance against the senior-laden Farwell -- except I'd seen Farwell play.

With the lower deck of the Erwin Center three-quarters full, including 500 of the 600 citizens of Brock, the 2A State Championship begins. At halftime I'm reliving a nightmare. The cocky kids, who yesterday couldn't miss, are "shooting" 5.9, oh hell, let's call it 6%, from the field. They score five points in the first half. But you know what? They're still in the game, if that's what you want to call it. Farwell ends the half with just 16 points.

When teams can't score, the media tells us about the stifling defense. Often this isn't the case. I've got nothing against Farwell. I think the Panhandle's cool. Really. Against Goldthwaite their defense was good, but not great. Goldthwaite just couldn't score. In the final, after Brock misses their first 10 shots or so, they lose their poise. Angry, frustrated, yelling at each other. This is a young team.

In the end, both teams make a game of it. Brock gets as close as four, but it's too late. Farwell hits big shots, keeping the ball in the safe hands of the series MVP, senior guard Ashley Crawford. Crawford hits clutch threes, makes pressure free throws, and despite constant pressure, turns the ball over only three times.

It's the emotion that's the juice, for me, of this affair. Despite the obvious observation that it wasn't a showcase 2A tournament, I find myself, again, with a lump in my throat as the winners celebrate a day they'll never forget and the young losers try to hide tears behind jerseys and towels, wondering what went so wrong. After the game, Farwell coach Steve Scott said, with tears in his eyes too, "You coach for the kids. Just the kids. If you have any other reasons, you're in the wrong business."

For the young girls of Brock, though, there are no guarantees, I'd bet my new 3-wood that this team will be back. Probably more than once. They're very good. Coach Tony Phillips tells his team to "remember how good it felt, and remember how bad it feels." Of this I think they'll need no reminding.No

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