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Posts tagged ‘North East Conference’

On the Road with RMU Basketball – Into the Carbonite Bobcat’s Den

The third day of our Connecticut invasion was a quiet one, thank goodness. Following the previous day’s victorious battle, the men needed some time to rest, recover, and prepare for their next challenge.

And I needed some time to browse Pinterest.

Day four, our final day in the Nutmeg State (whatever that means?), was to be our longest, most challenging day yet. My wake-up call came at 7:20 a.m. and nearly knocked me out of bed, it was so loud. A bull horn would have been more subtle. As I made my way down to breakfast, ears ringing, I looked outside and saw that the previous night’s torrential rains had given way to a clear, sunny day. However, a stiff, cold wind gave the day an ominous feel. After I woofed down some runny eggs, home fries, and around a half a pound of salty bacon, my stomach had an ominous feel, too.

Ski Lodge and Carbonite Bobcat

Once again it was silent on our charter as we traveled the six or so miles to Hamden to face the Bobcats of Quinnipiac. After climbing a long hill, we finally reached the summit and the TD Bank Sports Center, i.e., The Den. Out front, a large Bobcat, which had obviously been captured and frozen in carbonite, much like Han Solo, stood guard.

Across from the center, there was a strange complex resembling a ski lodge and a number of oddly shaped windmills. Obviously this was their source of power. If I could only dismantle it, I thought… But then, I thought, Geez it’s cold out here! And I ran inside.

Quinnipiac's sole source of power

As soon as I entered the building, a Quinnipiac supporter tried to push one of his little yellow “Go Bobcats!” towels on me. Being from Pittsburgh, I felt strangely compelled to take the golden towel and whip it above my head. But somehow I managed to fight off the urge and escape the Siren-esque trap.

Prior to the contest, the men were energetic and upbeat. They even participated in some kind of pre-game dancing ritual to get themselves fired up for the battle that lay ahead.

And what a battle it was. RMU dug itself a 10-point hole mid-way through the first half, and it looked like the Bobcats might run away with an easy victory. But the resilient Colonials managed to scrape and claw their way back into the game, and by halftime the score was tied, 38-38.

The second half continued to be a tight, hard-fought struggle. The men battled courageously despite the hostile environment inside the arena, but at the end the Colonials fell just short, 73-69. As they walked back to their locker room, the men were forced to watch the Bobcats celebrate on their own court in front of a delighted home crowd. It was a painful show that, no doubt, the Colonials will not soon forget.

The ride to the airport was a somber one, as we began our long journey back home to Pittsburgh. But although our Connecticut adventure ended in defeat, Head Coach Andy Toole and his men were able to come away with their heads held high, knowing that they had fought hard and courageously. Now they get to prove their worth in the 2012 Northeast Conference Men’s Basketball Tournamentwhich begins this Thursday as the Colonials host the Hawks of Monmouth at The Chuck, aka, the Sewall Center Arena.

As I look back to my time embedded with the Robert Morris University Men’s Basketball team, the memories are bittersweet. Bitter, because I wasn’t able to help the team more; sweet, because I had my own double bed, flat-screen TV, and no kids to wake me up before the break of dawn.

But such is life on the road.

Valentine J. Brkich

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On the Road with RMU Basketball – Day 2: Into the Sacred Heart of Darkness

The second day of our Connecticut invasion dawned with promise. Mid-morning, we gathered for a hearty breakfast and learned that Coach Toole had decided to cancel the morning practice to give his men a much-needed day of rest. It was welcome news, following our long journey the previous day, and it gave the men a chance to focus on the challenge ahead.

After receiving their orders to reconvene that afternoon, the men adjourned to their separate quarters. Since I had some time to kill, I decided to reconnoiter the surrounding area on foot. One positive aspect of being on the road is that you get the opportunity to experience other cultures and see things you’re not accustomed to. Walking into a local market, for instance, I saw what appeared to be a mannequin sitting in a chair, when, in fact, it was a live human being! I also saw some distinctively local establishments you won’t find anywhere else–places like Target, Best Buy, and something called Dunkin’ Donuts.

That afternoon the team gathered for a top-secret strategy session, in which Coach Toole quizzed his men on the opposing players, reviewed their individual assignments, and had them do a pre-game walk-thru. In lieu of a real ball, they used a balled-up t-shirt. In lieu of a real hoop, Coach Toole stood on a chair.

The bus ride to Sacred Heart was quiet – eerily so – as the men got themselves into game mode. When we arrived at the William H. Pitt Center, the players marched into the arena, focused on their mission and prepped to do battle with their NEC foe. Meanwhile, I went off with my pen and notepad and began working on this post. Believe it or not, these things actually take some thought to write.

For the visiting team, Sacred Heart’s home court is a challenging venue. Besides the 70 or so faithful fans who gathered to support their Pioneers, the Colonials had to try to not be distracted by a squad of cheerleaders, a dance team, a marching band with full drum set, and, of course, “Big Red”, the Sacred Heart mascot, who apparently is a distant cousin of RMU’s mascot, RoMo.

The contest itself was a battle for the ages. The Colonials and Pioneers traded blows throughout the game. Tied at halftime, the teams stayed neck and neck until the very end. Then, in what seemed like a fatal blow, the Pioneers took a one-point lead with 4.6 seconds remaining. But just when it seemed all hope was lost, Velton Jones launched a three-pointer a fraction of a second before the final buzzer. The ball swished through the net, silencing the crowd and sending the RMU bench into a frenzy.

It was a hard-fought victory for the Colonials, and one they won’t soon forget. But tomorrow is another day, and with it another challenge: the Quinnipiac Bobcats.

Valentine J. Brkich

On the Road with RMU Basketball – Day 1: Enemy Territory

The following post is the first from RMU correspondent Valentine J. Brkich, who is embedded with the RMU Men’s Basketball team during their current road trip to Connecticut…

The players wait, focused on the objective

This is my first dispatch from the road. For the next few days I’ll be accompanying the RMU Colonials Men’s Basketball team as they invade the state of Connecticut. This may be my first trip with the team, but I’m certainly qualified for this assignment. After all, I was the third best guard on the second team of the Sts. Peter & Paul Pacers during the 1986-87 season. I also started in my high school Spanish club’s first annual picnic basketball tournament back in 1993.

So, yeah, I know my way around the hardwood.

Our journey began yesterday morning as we boarded the tiny commuter jet in Pittsburgh. The players fanned out inside the plane, their spirits high despite the vertical challenges inside the cabin. I sat in the window seat next to a man named Dirk, who, after I questioned him, claimed to be a “consultant.” Of what, he didn’t reveal. From then on, I avoided conversation, just in case Dirk – if that was his real name – was working for the other side.

After landing in Hartford, it didn’t take long to realize we were in unfamiliar territory. Riding in the charter bus, I noticed that the roads were smooth and conspicuously devoid of potholes or orange cones. A roadside sign read, “NO BREAKDOWN LANE AHEAD.” I was still trying to figure out what a “breakdown lane” was, when another sign warned that something called a “Train Station” lay just ahead. Obviously we weren’t in Kansas, i.e., Moon Township, anymore.

Coach Toole studying film

As we moved deeper and deeper into enemy territory, Colonials Head Coach Andy Toole remained composed and focused. During the bus ride from the airport, he studiously watched film of the team’s next opponent, the Pioneers of Sacred Heart. At one point, however, his focus was broken by music emitting from headphones further back in the bus. The culprit: “Ice Ice Baby”.

Discipline was swift and stern. “NO VANILLA ICE!” declared Coach Toole, setting the tone for the rest of the mission.

Before long we arrived at our destination–Sacred Heart’s William H. Pitt Center. (No relation the namesake of our beloved Pittsburgh, but a welcome omen nonetheless.) As the team prepped for practice, Coach Toole, always the recruiter, watched as a young man named Daniel showed his stuff on the court. After Daniel swished his only shot, Coach Toole swapped cell numbers with him and told the boy to give him a ring in 12 years.

Coach Toole evaluates future talent

Following an energetic practice, we checked in at the hotel and then gathered for some much-needed nurishment at a local Chili’s. It being Lent, I had the salmon.

All in all, it was a productive first day. But I know today will bring new challenges. I can only hope we’re up for it. (By we, I mean the team. I’ll just be joting notes in my little notebook like always.)

To be continued…