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Seattle Seafarers Arena – First Half – Missoula 37 Seattle 23
Sherry dribbled up court, looking for Val to make her move across the bottom half of the key while Terry and Pete switched positions at the top half, jamming their defensive players between them. She saw Val run her defensive player towards Dawn who was to set a pick to free the forward.
But instead of being screened from the play, the defensive player slid past when Dawn was slow moving into her new position and rushed to guard Val preventing her from any chance at the ball.
Sherry cross-stepped a few feet to her left, switching the ball from her right hand to left as she dribbled.
Terry, seeing the play had been broken, ran back through the key setting a screen for Sherry.
Sherry took a step towards the screen, pulling up for an easy fifteen foot jumper. Just as she left the ground, she picked up the motion of Pete slipping down the other side of the key behind the defense and instead of shooting she attempted to pass the ball through the crowded key to Pete.
A Seattle player swatted at the ill advised pass, knocking it out of the air and into a teammate’s reach.
Sherry realized her mistake as soon as the ball left her hands. She back-pedaled, trying to get into position to prevent a fast break by Seattle.
The Seattle player dribbled to mid-court, flanked by two teammates, setting up a three-on-one break.
Sherry continued to back-pedal, trying to read the eyes of the player controlling the ball.
The Seattle player flipped the ball to her teammate on her right, who flipped it right back.
Sherry continued to focus on the middle player. She slowed, spreading her arms wide in hopes of stopping any run at the basket the player might try.
The Seattle player smirked at the lonely guard, popping into the air to attempt a long three pointer. Raising her arms, she momentarily held the ball over her head as she took aim. When her arms moved forward, her wrists flipped perfectly to send the ball straight for the basket.
Pete, chasing the play, saw the Seattle player leave her feet. Anticipating the shot she altered her course, running diagonally at the shooter. Dashing alongside the Seattle player, she threw her left hand up just in time to catch a piece of the ball and send it bouncing harmlessly out of bounds.
“Time,” Pat screamed at the officials.
A whistle blew, stopping play. The referee looked at Pat to find out how much time she wanted.
“Thirty seconds,” Pat called out above the crowd noise, tapping her shoulders with her fingers, the signal for a short time-out. She didn’t wait for the players to run over to her before she started telling them what was on her mind. “Sherry,” she stepped out a few feet further onto the court to greet the player, “don’t you ever pass up an open shot again.”
Sherry nodded guiltily. She knew the coach was right. It had been a rookie mistake and she wasn’t very pleased with herself for making it.
“Look,” Pat reached up, gently placing her hand on Sherry’s shoulder. “You’re a shooter,” she leaned in so she wouldn’t have to yell. “Trust your shot, okay?”
“Good,” Pat turned to face the other players. “Dawn, you’ve got to start hitting your marks. The last three plays have fallen apart because you were out of position.” She waited for Dawn to respond and wasn’t impressed when she didn’t. “Tonie,” she shouted to the starting post player. “Go in for Dawn.”
“But, coach,” Dawn started to protest.
“I expect a response when I talk to you,” Pat told Dawn, her voice sounded calm but her veteran players knew she was on the edge of letting her anger loose on the difficult rookie. “You want to play, you better learn that. Tonie,” she pulled the other player into the huddle when she came back from the scorer’s table. “They’re playing a switch down low. I want you to release to the opposite side of the key when you see it. Sherry, Pete, be alert. That should open Tonie up for some easy baskets underneath.”
Both guards nodded they understood.
The buzzer sounding the end of the timeout blasted through the arena.
“All right,” Pat glanced up at the scoreboard hanging above the court. “We have a comfortable lead, let’s try to hang on to it until half-time. No more rookie mistakes,” she growled, winking at Sherry to let the player know she still had her coach’s confidence.
The five players ran back onto the court as the rest of the team returned to the bench.
Dawn snatched a cup of water and towel off the stack at the end of their bench before slumping into an available seat. “Bitch,” she spat, under her breath.
“What?” Wendy, sitting next to her asked, her eyes following the action on the court.
“I should be playing not that bitch,” Dawn snarled.
“Damn,” Wendy rolled her head around to look at the rookie. “Do you have mud between your ears or what? You’re getting to play or haven’t you noticed?”
“So why am I sitting here?” Dawn sulked.
“Because you won’t follow Coach’s rules, that’s why. You get yourself taken out most of the time because you refuse to do things her way.”
“Maybe her way isn’t the right way,” Dawn grumbled, the argument sounding weak even to her ears.
“You’re an idiot,” Wendy turned back to the action. “She’s the coach, so her way is always right.”
Dawn looked down the length of the bench to see Pat watching her. “Shit,” she muttered.
Half-Time – Missoula 43 Seattle 32
“Things are going pretty well, ladies. Tonie, good job at low post, I don’t think they were expecting that change,” Pat was standing on a bench in the locker room to be seen and heard by the players. “But we can’t give them any more runs like they had at the end of the half. We need better action on the boards. They’re out rebounding us two to one, that’s something we have to reverse that in the second half. And, dammit, try to make some of your free throws. Except for Sherry, we’ve missed,” she looked down at a sheet of paper in her hand. “We’ve MISSED sixty four percent. Come on, ladies, that’s seventeen points.”
Most of the players looked any where but in the direction of their coach when they heard how poorly the team had shot from the charity stripe. They knew they were in for some long sessions of free throw practice when they got back to Missoula.
“Anything I need to know about?” Pat asked, searching the faces of her players for any signs of someone trying to hide an injury. “Lizzie?”
“All good here, Coach,” the trainer responded from the back of the room where she was re-taping Val’s ankles.
“Okay, get out there and get in some practice before the second half. From the free throw line,” Pat yelled after her players. “Sherry, hang on a minute,” she stopped the guard from exiting the room.
Sherry nodded, stepping out of the way of the other players. “Sure, Coach. Problem?”
“No,” Pat stepped off the bench and sat on it, motioning for Sherry to do the same. “I just wanted you to know, you’ll be sitting out the second half.”
“Oh?” Sherry was disappointed. She thought she’d been playing well.
“You’re doing a real good job out there,” Pat smiled to assure the player she meant what she said. “But I have to play Kinsey.”
Pat had been troubled when the veteran guard asked to be taken out of the game after playing less than half of the first period. When she’d spoken to Kinsey on her way into the locker room, the player had said her fatigue was due to not sleeping well the night before but that she was ready to return to the floor. Pat wasn’t convinced. She knew Mac was in the stands watching the game and she also knew Mac was looking for an answer on whether or not Kinsey could go the season. It was a question she was having trouble with herself. Pat knew she had to test the guard one last time before she and Mac could make a final decision.
“Kinsey is going to play the full half,” Pat told Sherry. She really didn’t owe the player an explanation but it felt good to give voice to her thoughts. Besides it allowed her a few more minutes with the young woman who was starting to haunt her dreams. “Wendy and Amie will rotate with Pete.”
“Okay, coach,” Sherry wasn’t sure why Pat was telling her what she was. But she didn’t care, glad to be able to sit there and look at the coach’s face. Her beautiful brown eyes. Her perfectly formed chin. The cute dimple in her left cheek. The luscious lips. ‘Uh, oh,’ Sherry jerked herself upright and out of her thoughts before they led someplace she wasn’t prepared to go. At least, not yet. “Is it okay if I still take some practice shots?” she asked, standing.
“Uh, sure,” Pat ran her fingers through her hair. “Go on.”
Marcie walked up, sitting in the place Sherry vacated. “Here are the official stats on the first half,” she held out a piece of paper for the coach. “Sherry’s having a heck of a half. Fifteen points. Eight assists. Two steals. Those are good numbers.” When Pat didn’t say anything, she waved the paper in front of the coach’s face.
“Huh?” Pat shook herself out of the haze that had surrounded her as Sherry ran out of the room.
“Yeah. What were you saying?”
“Sherry’s stats for the first half are pretty impressive.”
“Oh,” Pat looked at the paper Marcie had shoved into her hand. “I’m sitting her out the second half.”
“Yeah. Mac wants an answer when we get back home.”
“She looked sluggish the first half.”
“I hate to say it, Pat,” Marcie opened a notebook she had been carrying when she joined the coach. “But with the way Sherry is playing, Kinsey is loosing her hold on point guard. Fact is she never put up the numbers the rookie is.”
“I know,” Pat didn’t have to look at the hard numbers to know Sherry was showing signs of becoming a premier player.
“Time to get out there, Coach,” Kelley said as she checked her watch.
“Kinsey stays in until she asks to come out,” Pat told her assistant coaches. “This is her last chance.”
“Does she know that?” Marcie asked.
Two days had passed since the team returned to Missoula after winning their second exhibition game. Pat had arrived in her office early in the morning and was sitting behind her desk making notes on several papers spread out before her. She was sorting through different lineups, seeking the perfect one to take the Cougars all the way to the championship. She didn’t look up when someone tapped on the office door.
“Come in, Kinsey” Pat called to the unseen player. She had asked the veteran to come to her office before the rest of the team started arriving for practice.
“Morning Coach,” Kinsey smiled half-heartedly when she pushed the door open.
“Come on in and sit down,” Pat said, even less enthusiastic about their meeting.
“Let’s not drag this out, Coach,” Kinsey said before the door was shut behind her.
“Come over and sit down,” Pat repeated. “We have some hard decisions to make so we might as well be comfortable.”
“I can play, Coach,” Kinsey stood in front of Pat’s desk. “I’ve got a release from my doctor.” The player pulled a folded envelope out of her pocket, flattening it on the desk in front of Pat.
“Will you please sit down?”
Kinsey dropped into the chair.
“This isn’t easy for me, Kinsey,” she leaned back in her chair, scratching the back of her head. “But I think we both know, regardless of what that says.” Leaning forward, she tapped the envelope, “you can’t last the season.”
Pat had been disappointed when Kinsey asked to be taken out of the second half of the Seattle game after only playing six minutes. She returned to play a few more times but it was apparent the guard’s knees were causing her a great amount of discomfort.
“I may not be able to play the minutes I used to,” Kinsey wasn’t willing to let go of her position with the Cougars without a fight. “But I can still play. I’m willing to take a backup role,” she said, her voice having an edge of desperation to it.
“I don’t have room on the roster for another backup,” Pat said sadly. “Look, Kinsey, if there was any way for me to keep you on the team, I would. Even if it meant you sat the bench the whole season. But you and I both know that isn’t going to happen. I have one position to fill and I need a point guard that can play more than six minutes a half.”
Kinsey sat back in the chair, blowing out a long stream of air. “Damn, Coach.”
“Guess I should be better prepared for this day,” Kinsey frowned. “I’ve known it was coming for a while.”
“It’s not easy giving up the game,” Pat knew all too well how that felt.
“How’d you do it?”
“I cussed a lot,” Pat smirked. “I screamed, hollered, threw things, blamed everything and everybody I could think of. Then I cried,” she quietly said. “And then I got on with my life.”
“Don’t think too many teams are looking for a washed up point guard for a coaching job,” Kinsey said cynically, referring to Pat’s good fortune after her career ending injury.
“I’m not going to lie and say that getting the offer from Mac didn’t help,” Pat looked at the player. “But I would have found something to do even if Mac hadn’t called me. The point is, Kinsey, no matter how much it hurts now, there is more to life than basketball.” As she said the words, Pat wondered how much more of her life would pass before she actually believed them. “And you’ll find something.”
“Okay,” Kinsey’s tone hardened. “It’s obvious you plan to cut me. So just give me the details. And let’s get it over with.”
Pat studied her player. Would she react any differently if placed in the same situation? She doubted it. Not looking forward to saying what she had to, Pat steeled herself into her no nonsense coach mode. “I’ve talked to Mac and she’s agreed to let you choose how you want the announcement made. You can announce your plans to retire or she’ll issue a statement saying your contract is being dropped. Either way, you’ve played your last game for the Cougars.”
“Not much of a choice. Least you’d think I’d get is a chance to play one more game at home. Have something to remember my time here by,” Kinsey said, envisioning the farewell she’d receive from the home town fans.
“I gave you all the time I could, Kinsey. We have to have our roster finalized by the end of the week. You know the league rules as well as anybody.”
“When do you need to know?”
“Before you leave this meeting.”
“I’m signed for the full season, Coach. What does Mac plan to do about that?”
“That’s between you and her. I don’t have anything to do with the contracts or they’re conditions. You can go talk to her when you’re finished here; she should be up in her office.”
“Alright,” Kinsey slowly stood. “It’s not the way I would want to go out but I guess neither one of us has much control over it. You can tell Mac I’m retiring.”
“I really am sorry, Kinsey,” Pat stood to walk around her desk. Considering hugging the woman, she stopped herself at the last minute stretching a single hand out instead. “You were a hell of a point guard. It’s too bad we never had a chance to play together.”
“That would have been fun,” Kinsey took the offered hand, squeezing it gently. “You’re a good coach, Pat,” the ex-player used the coach’s name for the first time. “You win that championship,” she forced a smile on her lips even though tears were streaming down her face.
“If we do, you’ll be there as a member of the team,” Pat smiled back. “That’s a promise.”
Kinsey choked up, hoping Pat was speaking the truth but afraid to believe she would actually be given the opportunity to claim a part of that particular victory. But if it were to prove true, it might just be enough to help her get past the ending of her playing career.
“You earned it,” Pat said, not knowing that she was holding out the pot at the end of the rainbow to the ex-player. “We never would have made it as far as we did last year without you leading the team on the floor.” Pat retrieved a box of tissues, handing it to Kinsey.
“Thanks,” Kinsey whispered, wiping at the tears on her face. “Guess I should go see Mac.”
“Stop by the restroom and wash your face,” Pat smiled.
“Good idea,” Kinsey handed the box of tissues back to Pat. “I probably look a mess.”
“It’s to be expected. I’ll give her a call and let her know you’re on the way.”
“One more thing, Kinsey,” Pat said as the woman turned to leave.
“Yes?” Kinsey turned back around.
“About the team,” Pat hesitated, uncomfortable at having to ask the question. “How do you want them to find out?” Practice would be starting soon and it would not go unnoticed that the veteran player was missing.
“I can’t face that now, Pat. Just tell them the truth and I’ll come by in a few days to say my goodbyes.”
“Okay.” Pat watched Kinsey leave, the slump of her shoulders betraying the ex-player’s feelings. “Damn,” she muttered, yanking a couple of tissues out of the box and blowing her nose.
“Yes, she’s retiring,” Pat told Mac. She had called the owner’s office as soon as Kinsey left her own. She wasn’t surprised with Mac answered the call herself, it was still too early for her secretary to be at work. “She’ll be up there in a couple of minutes.”
“Any problems?” Mac asked, wanting to be prepared when the soon to be ex-Cougar arrived at her door.
“It was hard,” Pat sniffed. “But I think she knew it was coming.”
“It’s never easy, Pat. But it’s business, just remember that.”
Pat understood what the owner was telling her but Mac had never played the game and she didn’t really understand what it meant to step off the court for the last time. “Give her a fair deal, Mac,” she told the owner. “She’s more than earned it.”
“Don’t worry,” Mac chuckled. “I may be the ‘cold hearted bitch’ that owns this team but I do know what a player like Kinsey means to the game.”
“Didn’t know you knew your nick-name,” Pat said, startled by the owner’s use of the description some of the players had for her.
“Not much goes on in this building that I don’t know, Pat,” Mac laughed. “Remember that.”
“Guess I’ll have to,” Pat hoped that Mac hadn’t meant it as the warning it sounded like. “Do you want me to send Sherry up?” The rookie’s temporary contract was set to expire at the end of the week. Now with Kinsey being cut, Sherry could be signed for the full season.
“I’ll let you know when. Let me take care of Kinsey first.”
“Okay.” Pat hung up the phone when the line went dead, Mac wasn’t one to say goodbye when she was finished talking. Needing to get out of the tight confinement of her office, she headed out to the arena floor. Before she reached the end of the corridor she knew by the distinct pattern of a ball bouncing on the hard wood floor that Sherry was practicing free throws.
Sherry saw Pat walked out of the shadows of the corridor and walk over to sit a few rows up from the arena floor. It wasn’t unusual for the coach to sit in the bleachers during her practice but she normally had her notebooks with her. Sherry could see that Pat’s hands were empty and she wondered if something might be wrong. Cutting her practice short, she moved over to the side of the court closest to Pat, bouncing the ball as she walked. “Hi,” she smiled when she could go no further without climbing up into the rows of seats.
“Hi,” Pat lifted her feet up onto the back of the seat in front of her. Bending at the waist, she rested her arms on her knees and her chin on her crossed arms. “Being Coach sucks,” she pouted.
Sherry laughed. Pat looked so miserable, yet so adorable, she wanted to wrap the woman in her arms and tell her everything would be alright. “Want to share?”
The women looked at each other for several minutes, both wanting to go to the other but neither able to breach the unspoken barrier holding them back.
“You done with practice?” Pat asked, finally breaking the awkward silence.
“Still have fourteen,” Sherry was meticulous about keeping count of every free throw.
“You better go finish,” Pat told her player. “The rest will be showing up any minute.”
Pat stood up. After watching Sherry for a few more minutes, she walked down to the court. “Mac is going to want to talk to you later,” she told Sherry as she walked back to the corridor. “I’ll let you know when.”
“Anything I should be worried about?” Sherry asked. Pat was almost to the corridor and she wasn’t sure the coach had heard her question. “Coach?” she called out, almost afraid to hear the answer.
“Good news for you,” Pat called back over her shoulder. “Crappy news for Kinsey,” she muttered. ‘Great news for me,’ she thought, a smile spreading across her face. “But being coach still sucks,” she groaned.
Continued in Part 8
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