Reading Jim Caple's column about watching his old high school in the state tournament was bound to stir up some latent memories from this athletic supporter.
(Embarrassing, embarrassing first sentence, but remember this was 2003. We're reading Jim Caple, but youuuuuuuuuuuu bought Bush's justification for going into Iraq.)
Seven years ago today, March 7, 1996, I was a benchwarmer for the Ernestown Eagles at the Ontario 'AA' basketball championship. Seeded 11th, we were matched up against the top-seeded team, Windsor Forster, in our preliminary game. It was supposed to be a mismatch
Early in the game, their guard strips our all-everything point guard, Rob Smart (who now plays the same position for Canada's top-ranked university team, Carleton University) and throws an alley-oop to the centre for a dunk. The gym flips out.
Although our posts, Jeff Brierley and Phil Leonard, are giving up between two and five inches and no small amount of athletic ability to their Windsor counterparts, we stay in the game. Smartie finds his shot, and Brierley has his man in foul trouble, even though he's having trouble making the free throws. Early in the second quarter, my friend Wegs, who constitutes a one-man bench, spots up for a three, draws his man out, steps inside the arc, hits the jumper while being bumped and hits the free throw, a move he'd been working on all season but only recently started to bust out. At the half, we're winning 35-29, and the gymnasium at Nicholson Catholic College in Belleville is backing the longshots.
Windsor starts to come on in the third quarter, using their quickness to wear us down. In the dying seconds of the period, from the corner, off his wrong leg, our small forward, Gavin Stainton, tosses in a three-pointer to give us a 52-48 lead.
Starting the fourth quarter, the lead goes from four points to two, to switching hands every minute or so. With about 50 seconds to go, Windsor goes up one. Rob Smart brings the ball upcourt, working the clock. Phil pops out to set a screen. Robbie drives inside and gets fouled with 18.6 ticks left.
On the bench, Wegs turns to me and whispers, "This is just like in the movies." Game on the line, ball in the star player's hand. As if there was any doubt, Rob drains the shots for his 34th and 35th points of the night, giving us a 68-67 lead.
(Sadly, the same guy who forgets to pay his cable bill on time remembers Smart was 12-of-18 of the field that night. Claude Scilley from the Kingston Whig-Standard was very good about compiling boxscores, and well, let's not get into why a young man would pore over the boxscores of basketball games in which he had been a participant, and on rare occasions, even actually played.)
Forster calls timeout to set up a play, which it hadn't had much reason to do all night. As the seconds tick away, a guard goes backdoor on Gavin Stainton, and flips in a runner with five seconds left. Phil scoops up the ball and inbounds to Rob, who with seemingly half of southwestern Ontario closing in on him, turns and throws a half-court-length pass to Gavin, who had alertly taken off for the other end after losing his man on defence. With two seconds left, he takes off from the foul line for a layup ... and the bloody ball clanks off the back of the rim.
(The way it's remembered is there was a beat between the ball bouncing off and the buzzer. Maybe there was time for one more dribble, but for a high school player, it might have been a good play just to get in that position. My sister, Trina, said later that the only problem was that the only player we had who could make that shot was the one who threw the pass.)
Game over. We lose, 69-68. It doesn't seem real.
The next day we meet Peterborough, who we had beaten back at Christmastime. We find ourselves down 24-0 in the first quarter. Smartie fouled out in the third quarter after picking up four offensive fouls. It was a debacle, but the real burn was from the night before. We shot 0-for-10 from downtown, with seven of the misses coming from Wegs.
With two minutes left, we're playing out the string when Phil takes the ball out of bounds after a free throw and puts it in to Rob Wilson. (Wegs always remembered that Rob actually got the ball after grabbing a rebound.) Normally, Wilson is known as "Teflon" because nothing seems to sticks to his hands, and for the season, he's about 1-for-10 at the line. But this time his aim is true, and he lays the ball in off the glass into his OWN BASKET.
Claude Scilley of the Kingston Whig-Standard summed up the own-basket thusly:
"There was a not a single sign of displeasure among the Ernestown Eagles yesterday when Rob Wilson took an inbounds pass, gracefully pivoted, and put the ball into his own basket.Guess who that guy on the bench was?
"Actually, it was perfect.
" 'One of the guys on the bench said to me, 'Coach, if that had been me, I'd have missed the shot,'" said Eagles coach Tom Turnbull. 'I thought, No, the way things went today, there's no way we would have missed that shot.' "