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