Thursday the bell rang and Emmy rushed to yet another appointment. Thankfully her favorite driver, Bill, was back and when she was finished he helped her out and drove a little quicker than normal. Thank goodness for Bill because as the van pulled up the girls were coming out of the gym and getting on the bus. “Thank you so much.” She smiled at Bill as she climbed out of the van.
“Emmy, play hard.” Bill leaned back and winked at her.
“Always.” She closed the door and climbed right on the bus found a seat and laid her head back closing her eyes.
“Everybody on?” Coach climbed on and looked over the bus. Looking back she didn’t see Emmy. “Did Taylor make it?” Hearing her name Emmy sat up and opened her eyes.
“Yes ma’am.” Coach didn’t let out an audible sigh, but she’d been worried. When she looked out of the office and told the players the bus was there she hadn’t seen Emmy. Tonight was one of those nights that they were really going to see the difference Emmy’s presence made.
Coach told the driver they were ready and sat down. She felt good about her team’s chances tonight. Without the players knowing it they had been preparing of this team for the last couple of weeks. Stephanie had them doing drills shooting over much taller players, mainly her sons. Making quick moves to the basket and using shot fakes to get them off their feet.
Despite all coach’s warnings for those that hadn’t played last year, nothing could have prepared her for how big this team really was. The Harrisburg Catholic Lady Titans were already on the court shooting when the team walked in. The Bruins’ center Maria Martinez was a good foot taller than Emmy and it looked like Maria would have been the shortest player on this team.
Harrisburg was a private catholic school, grades K-12, that recruited players from all over the city. Harrisburg was one of three private schools that regularly won the state tournament. Last year the Titans had been the favorite all season long and during the State Tournament Lincoln had the unfortunate draw to be their first victim.
Watching the girls stare at them as they walked in Emmy noticed they all seemed to be looking at her. The team had probably scouted them, just like Coach Miles had done, and while they might have known what kind of player she was, without her uniform number she doubted they knew what she looked like. She figured they were wondering what she’d done to get a black eye.
After placing her bag in the locker room Emmy felt nauseous again and headed out to the lobby to find a more private place to get sick. When she returned, out on the court, the sixth grade game was underway. Stopping at the end Emmy watched for a moment then was overtaken by that “team” thing that Coach kept talking about when she yelled out “Andy watch behind you.” The 6th grade guard must have heard her because she dropped back just in time to steal the ball.
Coach Miles heard her and winked and smiled. Emmy nodded back and then climbed up the bleachers to sit with the other 7th and 8th graders.
When the game was almost over all the 7th graders went back to get ready. Brittany Lewis held up a hand for Emmy to give her five “Get them Taylor, but save something for our game OK?” Emmy smiled hoping there was enough left for either game. She’d been feeling so sick all week she couldn’t really remember the last time she’d eaten.
Early in the season she’d been honored when Coach had handed out the jerseys and she was playing on both the 7th, and 8th grade team. Only Maisy and one other player were playing up to the 8th grade team. On Tuesday Emmy struggled to make it through one game, let alone two.
The sixth grade team lost by four. For the second game of the season Stephanie was pretty satisfied with their play. As that game ended, Coach came in and did the pep talk, they warmed up and Emmy actually felt great. She knew it was the adrenaline, the whole team was feeling it. The music, the crowd, mostly Titan fans, were buzzing creating a perfect atmosphere.
As the tip went up the rest of the world stopped. For those four, 6-minute quarters nothing else mattered. The burning in her chest or the pit of her stomach didn’t matter. At halftime they were only down by four, so they hadn’t even gone back to the locker room, coach had just sat them on the bench to talk. That had prevented Emmy from even thinking about getting sick.
With 38 seconds left in the game the opposing coach called time out. The Titans were up by two and everyone knew they were going to try to hold the ball. In middle school basketball there was no shot clock so they could hold it for the rest of the time unless the Bruins could foul or steal it back.
“OK guys we’ve played great no matter what these next few seconds brings I’m proud of this team and the effort of each one of you. “ The Titans were known for their free throw shooting. Last year in the tournament they missed only one free throw in four games. Tonight they hadn’t missed a foul shot; the team was perfect 10 for 10. So they weren’t going to foul. They planned out the defense and what play they would run if they got the ball back. In a normal game they’d run a play inside for Martinez, their center, but with the size and blocking ability of this team they were going for a shot from Emmy or Maisy on the wing.
Emmy listened intently, but her mind wondered. She’d been watching the point guard the whole game and knew that just before she put the ball down to dribble she had a habit of leaving it unprotected. When the whistle blew Emmy took a deep breath and gave thirty seconds of the best defense she had left.
With ten seconds left the Titans still had the ball and the lead. They were spread out and just throwing the ball around. Maisy was on the girl with the ball. The girl got nervous under the pressure and quickly threw the ball back to the point guard and Emmy smiled. This was the moment. The guard, number 2, held the ball while the official counted, at a count of four she went to put the ball on the floor but Emmy Taylor was waiting. The ball was gone before she knew what had happened.
Dribbling down the floor toward their goal, Emmy wasn’t taking any chances so she slowed just a bit as she went in for the layup. This hesitation gave number 2 just enough time to catch up. Emmy went up for the layup as she was absolutely creamed by the other girl. The coaches and bench watched as the ball bounced off the backboard and then right in the goal. Emmy on the other hand bounced off the padding on the wall and onto the floor, followed by the other girl who crashed onto her again.
Laying there Emmy struggled to catch her breath. The girl had landed on her chest and knocked all the air out of her lungs. Coach was there in an instant. “Emmy, just lay there OK.” She placed a hand on her back as Emmy gasped for air.
After what seemed like an eternity Emmy managed to relax and breathe easy. Coach could feel the tension let off.
“Can you sit up?”
Emmy rolled over and sat up. “I’m ok. Just got the wind knocked out of me.” Coach watched her as she sat there for a second. “Did it go in?”
“Did they call a foul?”
“Amazingly.” Coach had been yelling at the referees all night about calling more fouls. The scratches and bruises on the other Bruins players apparently weren’t obvious enough for these officials.
“Then lets do this.” Emmy stood. As she did the hits, the nausea, the dehydration and the energy expelled all came back and she swayed. Enough that coach had to reach out and steady her.
“You sure you’re OK.”
“Yeah, just got up too fast.” Taylor always had an answer for everything.
Coach headed to the bench and Emmy stepped out on the floor alone. The buzzer had sounded just as the ball went through the hoop. The game was tied and Emmy had one free throw to win the game.
Alone on the court, except for the referee she stepped to the line and there were no nerves. She caught the ball when the referee threw it, spun it and then two bounces. A rhythm she’d practiced thousands of times in the gym at St. Thomas.
It was one of the first things she’d done once she’d been released to return to activities after her surgery. Today all of that was far from her mind. In fact, there was nothing on her mind but the feel of the ball as it left her hands. Nothing but net.
The team maintained their composure and didn’t rush the court. As she ran back to the bench there were a lot of hugs. The other team was not so nice. Stephanie joined the team in the line as they shook, or slapped, hands with the Titans.
The Titan’s coach patted her on the back “Great game Coach. You’ve got a great little player there. Is number 5 yours?” Stephanie smiled this was the second game of the season and the second time she’d been asked if Emmy was her daughter. “Thanks, no Emmy’s not mine.” He nodded. She really hoped that he wasn’t going to try recruiting Emmy.
The 8th grade game was completely different. Emmy was so tired that everything was missing; several of her free throws even hit the front of the rim. Coach noticed and gave her as much of a break as she could but the 8th grade point guard Sophie Clark got two quick fouls.
In the end, Emmy played all but 6 minutes of the 8th grade game and all 24 of the 7th and in the 4th quarter she was dragging. The team lost by 6, and Emmy only scored 8 points.
In the locker room coach looked as the whole team hung their heads. “Guys look up here.” She waited to see every set of eyes, noting that Emmy’s were the last ones to make contact. “That is a good, physical, big team. You guards did everything you could. In fact I’m pretty sure several of you spent more time on the floor than you did standing. We learned some things. We need to talk more on defense. You guys playing the back line have to talk more. You’ve got to warn Sophie and Emmy when those picks are coming. Getting constantly hit from behind hurts. And these girls weren’t setting wimpy picks.”
“You know the good thing is, this isn’t last year. Tonight wasn’t the end of the season. This team will undoubtedly make it to the State Tournament. We may very well meet them again. Heads up when we walk out of here I’m proud of the game we played. Now if anyone has any injuries that we need to look at find me or one of the other coaches. Alright hands in…Bruins on three.” The whole team screamed needing to get it out.
On the bus four players rode back. As the bus was loaded Emmy took her usual seat in the back. The others riding all took other seats and lay down.
Up front all three coaches were riding back tonight. “Did anyone come to you for ice?” Coach Jameson had three bags left. After seeing the beating the girls had taken he’d gone ahead and filled several bags.
“Yes Maisy and Sophie both did. Sophie is going to have a heck of a bruise on her back.”
Coach Brett had started screaming out picks to try to help. “She’s lucky she didn’t damage her kidneys. Number 10 was using elbows.”
“Did anyone check on Emmy? She got creamed at the end of the second game.”
“No she just headed to the back. You could tell she was hurting though in the eighth grade game. I’ve never seen her miss a free throw.”
“Or a layup.” Stephanie added before standing up and walking to the back. “Taylor?” Maisy pointed to the seat next to her. Coach walked back there. Emmy was already asleep with her head on her backpack and her arms curled up under her. Stephanie shook her head and smiled at Maisy.
She made her way back up front. “She’s already asleep.”
Rick put his ice packs in a plastic bag. “Poor kid’s worn out. She played her heart out tonight.”
“She did.” Coach sat back and pulled out her phone. She wanted to jot down some notes for the next game. This team was tough and she was determined to get them next time. One of the parents had taped the game for her and she’d study the tape and next time they would have a special game plan just for the Titans.