By Brian Eller - email@example.com
QUICKSBURG - Michaela Koontz couldn't hold it in any longer.
The Stonewall freshman was exhausted. In just her second varsity game, she had played nearly every minute in both regulation and overtime. She had just fallen victim to a clever trap by the Wilson Memorial defense, allowing the Hornets to snatch the ball and pick up two points, increasing the Generals' deficit with less than a minute remaining in overtime. That's when the tears began to fall.
As she tried to gather her composure, coach Jeff Burner hollered over to her, helping her to quickly forget about the tears and remember there was still time left on the clock, and that her team wasn't down for the count.
Koontz then snapped back into action, mustering every ounce of energy she had left to try and mount a last-second comeback. And although her team ultimately fell short Friday night, falling 59-56 to Wilson, it was a moment of maturation for the 5-foot-1 point guard and the rest of the youthful Generals.
"We're battling," Burner said. "We are so young and we're going to make some bonehead mistakes and stuff, but as a coach that's the hardest part because you don't want to show your frustration too much because you understand. Michaela is just busting her butt off for me, and I'm sure she was tired, but we don't have a whole lot of other ball options right now, so she's got to play a lot of minutes and keep going out there."
Glancing at Stonewall's roster, one would expect of lot of growing pains to occur this season. The Generals' varsity squad looks more like a junior-varsity unit on paper, with only one senior and eight freshmen and sophomores to take the court. But that doesn't mean this squad isn't willing to fight, and Friday night they showed just how much fight they've got in them.
After both offenses got off to a sluggish start in the first half, the Hornets eventually drew first blood and were able to build a seven-point lead heading into the fourth quarter. But the Generals wouldn't go away, using an aggressive defense to create turnovers and give their offense extra possessions. Finally, with less than two minutes left in the fourth quarter, Stonewall's Ashlie Clar hit a 3-pointer, one of four on the night, giving the home team a one-point lead, its first since leading 21-20 early in the second quarter.
From there, the two teams battled back and forth, exchanging the lead multiple times as the clock continued to run down. With the score tied at 44, the Generals had the ball at mid-court, as Burner called out the one offensive play that he felt would work -- "the Star."
"When we get in it and use it and we just keep reversing the ball, we get killer looks," senior Heather Stout said. "It's just amazing, but if we don't take our time with stuff then we're not going to."
The scheme was effective. Stout took the ball underneath the Wilson hoop, and hoisted up a layup in the final seconds. Her shot didn't go in, however, and the two teams were headed to overtime.
In the extra period the Hornets got off to a fast start, opening up a 7-1 run to take a six-point lead with less than two minutes left. Still, the Generals would not quit. Clar again hit a crucial basket from beyond the arc, this time banking in a 3-pointer to cut the Wilson lead to a single point. Even after the Hornets inflated their cushion back to five, Stonewall's Cassie Conley hauled in a half-court pass, then made the shot as she simultaneously drew the foul, capping off the three-point play seconds later, cutting the Wilson lead to just two with less than 30 seconds remaining.
After hitting 1-of-2 free throws, the Hornets still weren't safe, and had to fight off what seemed like the 100th offensive possession by the Generals before they could celebrate their road victory. Following the buzzer, the Generals couldn't help but hang their heads as they walked to the locker room. But for a team that has just three returning players, even the losses sometimes feel like wins.
"Everyone was down because of the loss, obviously, but we were so proud of ourselves for the comeback," said Stout, who finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds. "We're a young team and we just have to get the pieces clicking. I feel like as a team we did some new things and we're getting patient and getting better looks. We're just coming together. It's just going to take some time."