Troy Shockley is the sports editor for the Independent Record. The opinions expressed in this column are his alone.
Writing a game story is a tricky thing.
There’s a balance that has to be found between including too much detail and not enough. The reader should be able to feel some of the drama, the tension. But context is also necessary. So then, which interesting tidbits jotted down before and during the game are, in fact, interesting?
Doing this mental sorting can, at times, feel like trying to work inside one of those cash blowing machines, sportswriters desperately trying to grab the big bills before time runs out.
Add to the equation the pressure of a late-night finish pushing up against a deadline -- and that late-night finish resulting in a team’s first State championship in two decades -- and that cash blowing machine can begin to feel more like Bill Paxton’s truck in “Twister.”
“I gotta go Julia; we got cows.”
That was the scenario over the weekend at Great Falls’ Four Seasons Arena -- where, to add to the metaphor, event staff fired up at least a half-dozen seemingly commercial-grade leaf blowers to help clear the stands of debris as writers from across the state rushed to form thoughts, notes, stats and quotes into a story, going from blank page to finished product in around 30 to 45 minutes following Helena High’s upset victory over Missoula Sentinel.
As a group, we did some great work.
But we all missed the play of the game.
Team scoring leader Jamie Pickens spent much of the night on the bench in foul trouble, and other players came up big in response. We got that.
We all talked about Kamden Hilborn’s special night, too, particularly her taking a charge with 15 seconds to play and Helena up by three, 44-41.
It was a remarkable play. Pivotal, because Kendra Kloker’s ensuing free throws essentially sealed it, making it a five-point game.
It was the play we all remembered, and the one we all wrote about. But it was one that may not have come at all if not for Sam Holman.
Holman, one of five seniors on the team, is a role player. She averaged just under five points and about 2.5 rebounds a game this season. She is, though, a 50 percent shooter, and hits better than 64 percent from the free-throw line.
She can be either steady or a sparkplug, and on Saturday night she was both.
What we all missed while writing in Paxton’s truck was what she did with about 30 seconds left.
Sentinel’s Bronwyn McCormick had just hit a bucket underneath, making it a two-point Bengal lead. As Pickens took the ball and stepped onto the baseline for the inbounds play, Holman was already squirting out the back.
Seeing Holman making a break, Pickens quickly heaved the ball down the court. It was something that she and Hilborn had connected on several times over the weekend, leading to quick transition buckets. But this time, it was nearly disastrous.
Whether it was Pickens’ heave going a bit long or Holman’s post pattern not getting quite deep enough fast enough -- in truth, it was likely a bit of both -- the ball wound up very nearly going out of bounds. It would have given Sentinel possession and 24 seconds to work with, down just two.
That scenario looked almost certain as the ball flew through the air, and then hit the court ahead of everyone.
Instead, Holman not only tracked down the ball, under the basket with less than a foot of court left to work with, but drew a foul in the scramble. That hustle -- and her hitting one of the two ensuing free throws with 24.6 seconds remaining -- set the stage for Hilborn’s defensive play 10 seconds later.
Holman ended the night with four points, four rebounds and a pair of steals. And that fourth point, the final of her high school career, was big.
But it was her scramble for that lob that truly set Helena up to send a quintet of seniors out as State AA champions.
In our retelling of that night, we all missed it.
Luckily for the Bengals, Holman, somehow, did not.