You know you’re good when beating you sets off a celebration
When the buzzer sounded, the Fremont St. Joe student section was ready.
The fans rushed toward the center of the court, celebrating with the players who made it possible.
Sure, it was a regular-season game in January, and no title was on the line. The postseason is more than a month away.
All that had happened is the Streaks had beaten New Riegel.
So why the celebration?
There are a few explanations. But here’s the one I like best:
St. Joe looks at New Riegel as a rival. New Riegel had beaten the Streaks so many times in a row that St. Joe’s star player Friday night – Connor Dudley – wasn’t sure when the last time his school had beaten the Blue Jackets (for the record, it was a 51-50 win in the 2006-07 season).
All he knew was that he hadn’t beaten them.
“That last four minutes of basketball,” Dudley said, “That was probably the funnest basketball game I played in since eighth grade, when we had some battles.”
On top of all that, New Riegel came into Fremont 13-1, and a perfect 6-0 in the Midland Athletic League.
It couldn’t have felt good to the New Riegel players to see the St. Joe faithful celebrating Friday night. And while I don’t expect the Blue Jackets to see it this way, the truth is in a strange way, the fans were paying respect to New Riegel.
You don’t garner that type of reaction from an opponent unless you are doing something right, and have done something right for years.
New Riegel is and has been a very good program. Getting a win over it, for St. Joe, was a very big deal.
Two other examples of this come to mind.
Last season, on a Thursday night at the Gillmor Center, Tiffin University’s men’s team held an impromptu celebration on the court after it beat the University of Findlay.
In each of the past two seasons, the Dragons had been a shot or a rebound away from beating the Oilers, who established themselves as a power with a national title in 2009.
And while Findlay hasn’t been quite as dominant as the undefeated team that ran roughshod over Division II that season, it remains a Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference power.
When Tiffin finally pulled off a win over the Oilers last winter, the emotion overflowed. Suddenly, the team that had one conference win just three years earlier had knocked off the mighty Oilers. It was a sign of how far TU had come, but it also was a sign of how good Findlay was, and is.
One more example came in the winter of 1997, on basketball’s highest level.
That season, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman were pushing the Chicago Bulls to another NBA title. On Feb. 27, the Bulls came into Cleveland with a 49-6 record. The Cavaliers of that time were not only pre-Kyrie Irving and pre-LeBron James, but pre-Shawn Kemp.
Cleveland wasn’t a bad team at that time – it came in 31-24. Coached by Mike Fratello, the Cavs acted as though the shot clock was something that needed to be tested and retested. As a result, they played low scoring games. And on that night, with a starting lineup that included a very good Terrell Brandon and four very average players, the Cavs played their game and somehow beat the mighty Bulls, 73-70.
Some 16 years later, it still amazes me that team was able to hold a Jordan team to 70 points.
But what made it memorable was the aftermath. Sure, the Cavs had beaten the eventual NBA champions. But the players ran to center court and celebrated. All these years later, I can still remember the smile on journeyman Vitale Potapenko’s face. He had 12 points and five rebounds. Then there was the late Bobby Phills, who had 13 points.
Even then, I remember thinking: “It’s Feb. 27. The Bulls will sweep these guys if they ever see them in the playoffs.”
But to beat a team that good, even for one night, that was special. The celebration really was a tribute to how good that Bulls team was.
So, despite the loss Friday night, I hope New Riegel’s players can appreciate, if only for a moment, what they represent:
A really good basketball team.
Zach Baker is the sports editor of The Advertiser-Tribune
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