What do you say about a routine, regularly scheduled appointment on your calendar that goes exactly the way that you expected it to go? If you wanted to be charitable, you could call it normal. When you go to the DMV to renew your vehicle registration and you leave with that brand new, bright yellow sticker to affix to your license plate, it is safe to say that there was nothing exciting about that day.
What about in sports? Does the fact that every fan, parent, school administrator, or sports writer is absolutely sure they know what the outcome will be taken away from the excitement of actually playing the game? Does that make it mundane? Is it uninteresting? The answer, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.
The answer to this question for the Nature Coast Lady Sharks and the Weeki Wachee Lady Hornets would come last Thursday evening when they played the last of their two basketball contests of the 20-21 season. When the two squads first clashed in November of last year, the Sharks pulled out a twelve-point victory on the shoulders of their six-foot-tall Junior, Heaven Lee, who scored twenty-four of the team’s forty-five points.
Weeki Wachee’s head coach, Billy Hughes, was not going to let that happen again. He started the game by assigning his Junior guard, Alexis Holley, the unenviable task of harassing Lee throughout the game—despite the fact that Nature Coast’s big center towered an imposing nine inches over the diminutive Weeki Wachee shooting guard.
Holley played with an effort that bordered on super-human. When the Sharks had the ball, Holley was all over Lee. No matter where Lee moved or how she tried, she could never put much space between herself and the ever-present Holley. Coach Hughes said, “The plan was to annoy [Lee]. Just never leave her alone.”
The plan was working. In the first three-quarters of the game, Heaven Lee had only made two field goals. She had also made some free-throws, but it was plain to see that she was off her pace. Alexis Holley was constantly in Lee’s hip pocket. Holley was always touching Lee—just enough to tell her, “I’m here and I’m not going away.”
The first quarter ended in a 6-6 tie. The Hornet’s strategy looked promising, but the Sharks would begin to compensate in the second and third quarters with scoring coming from five other Sharks. At halftime, Nature Coast had widened their lead to five points. By the end of the third, Weeki was in a nine-point hole.
Trailing 26-17 at the beginning of the fourth, the Hornets needed more than defense. They needed to get their offense rolling. But, alas, it was not meant to be.
In the fourth frame, Heaven Lee got rolling. In a low-scoring defensive game of attrition, she piled on a crushing eight of her game-high fifteen points.
This would prove to be more than the Hornets could overcome.
After their 38-22 victory over the Lady Hornets, Nature Coast’s head coach, Emily Gore, said that “Weeki Wachee does a good job of throwing something at us defensively to take away our best kid.” She continued, “We literally talked about this in practice yesterday. What is the number one thing you would do to beat Nature Coast? Take away Heaven. That’s what they did early on.”
When asked, the coaches for both Weeki Wachee and Nature Coast stressed the importance of being patient, getting good looks and needing to get more production from the guards.
In games like this—games that are often derided as “slow” or “uninteresting,” you really do get a chance to see the plan. You get a glimpse of just what kind of tacticians the coaches are. The plodding pace allows you to see the game plan unfold before you. And you get to see the heart and determination of the players dealing with frustration and difficulty in real-time.
There are minor victories and defeats on both sides. There are lessons to be learned. There are changes to be made to prepare for what’s ahead.
With the post-season looming large in the not-so-distant future, those lessons need to be implemented well and perfected soon. Because one thing is certain, post-season appointments are anything but routine.