Thursday, February 17, 2011/lk
After 19 games and 31 minutes of basketball, the Hood River Valley girls basketball season came down to 13 seconds.
Win and they were still alive for the second spot in the Columbia River Conference and the home regional playoff game that comes with it. Lose and they were all but locked into the third seed and going on the road.
They had already won against Pendleton last Friday on a last-second shot by Logan Bailey to prevent the possibility of falling to fourth place, and Tuesday they got a key defensive play in the final seconds.
Plenty went into those 13 seconds - months of focus on defense, a quick observation by an assistant coach and some quick reactions by players on the court.
In typical fashion in a fierce game, both teams blew opportunities in the final 30 seconds. Leah Wilson of TDW missed a potentially game-tying free throw with 27 seconds left, and the Eagles rebounded only to have Jaci Bryant turn the ball over seconds later and TDW took a timeout.
What happened next was a situation every coach dreams of: A perfectly drawn-up plan and perfect execution.
"Scott Walker turned to me in the timeout and said, 'By the way, you've got two fouls to give if you want use them,'" HRV coach Tom Ames said.
Ames told his players to deny the ball and then foul before the Eagle-Indians could get a shot off.
The plan worked perfectly.
Post Danae Burck guarded the inbounds pass. A minute earlier she had scored her only point - which proved to be crucial - by hitting a free throw.
But she came up with a bigger number, one that didn't appear in the box score, when she batted down the inbounds pass and took a second off the clock.
"I just wanted to play tough defense and not give up a shot," Burck said.
The Eagle-Indians got the next pass in, and Bryant then fouled, running a few more seconds off the clock.
The Eagle-Indians brought the ball in again, and again Bryant fouled, this time able to wait a few seconds later and take the clock all the way down to five seconds left.
"All the coaches were telling me to tip or steal it at any point," Bryant said. "As soon as she was dribbling I just tried to get a steal, but they called a foul."
It all worked out in the end, though.
The Eagle-Indians took another timeout and both teams drew up their strategy for the final seconds.
At that point Ames began yelling and gesturing from the sidelines reminding his players they now had to play straight-up. The Eagles now had six fouls, and another would give the Eagle-Indians a chance to tie and/or win the game with free throws.
On the final inbound attempt, the Eagle-Indians were finally able to do what they wanted to do to begin with: get the ball to Anndria North at the right block.
They hoped she could get a short jumper for the win; but Bryant reached her hands up in front of her and Burck took away the baseline dribble, forcing North away from the basket and to lob a pass to Wilson at the top of the key.
"I was worried because whenever they tell me to play upright defense I foul," Bryant said.
Emily Ing got in the way and deflected the ball, forcing Wilson to reach down and pick it up as Titus rushed in with her arms stretched straight in the air.
"We wanted this so bad," Titus said of what inspired the HRV effort in the closing seconds. "All week all we had been thinking was that we had to beat The Dalles."
Wilson, already moving away from the basket as she scrambled for the ball, had to launch a long fade-away jumper just before the buzzer.
Back at the baseline, Burck had a complete view of the shot as it went up.
"When she first got it off, I was like 'Oh-no' because I thought someone was going to foul her," she said. "But then I saw that it was going to be off."
The shot fell short and the Eagles were suddenly a team full of life again.
"Our kids did a great job pressuring them," Ames said.
After the game, a tired, but happy Titus said that a challenge from her coaches and a teammate helped her realize it was now or never for her team.
"Before the game Jaci Bryant came up to me and said "Our senior year is almost over and we've got to go," Titus said. "That lit a fire."
An exhausted Ames hopes the two wins, and the 13 seconds which led to the victory over The Dalles, are a defining moment for his team.
"If this doesn't springboard us," he said, "I don't know what will."