As noted from my previous reports, I am currently a student at the University of Portland. Before I invested in Portland, I made an emotional investment with the school 15 miles from my house: Sac State.
Outside of sports, I had made visits to Sac State's campus for school-related reasons. As the nearest University, the school districts liked to use Sac State for multi-school events. Need a place to hold a regional science fair? Set up show in a Sac State ballroom. Hosting a Science Olympiad for the local schools? Sac State opened a couple of classroom buildings.If you needed to borrow a light for the elementary school play, Sac State's Theater department was able to help.
From those experiences, I came to believe public schools had plenty of power because they had taxpayer money to invest in science and academic programs. Why else would the larger public middle and high schools dominate the competitions?
At that age, I also thought Sac State was a massive, fun place for learning that could do no wrong, even if I had read or heard little about their athletic programs. Sac State's athletics were not heavily promoted partly due to the success of the only major-league team, the Sacramento Kings of the NBA dominating the coverage, the city's constant observation and coveting of the success of the Bay Area and Tahoe, but also Sac State had not been able to follow the lead of its professional brothers, at least in basketball.
Outside of a few runs in the D-II Tournament, highlighted by an appearance in the 1962 title game, a loss to a bow-tie-wearing Jim Phelan's Mount St. Mary's, the only time I really got to see Sac State basketball in the national media was whenever a team "challenged" the 34-game losing streak from 1997-99; a record that held until a decade later when NJIT lifted the onus with its streak of 51 heartbreaks and struggles. My heart goes out to anyone affiliated with the program or Towson, currently carrying a 30-game burden of its own.
As youth, people tend not to do research, possess a self-centric mindset and live in the present, jumping onto bandwagons because it's fun and jump off when bored or distracted.
In the 2003-2004 season, I rode the basketball team's bandwagon. During conference play, I sat on my bed clutching my Sony Walkman AM/FM/TV Radio, living through those radio broadcasts. I thought with six seniors, Sac State had their best shot to break through to the tournament. On an early March night, Sac State hosted its first conference tournament game in its D-I history against Weber State in the first round of the Big Sky Tournament.
The previous year, Weber State, then the top seed, had crushed Sac State's dream in the quarterfinals, 82-60. I thought the Hornets could get revenge and make their first home postseason game a success. That Friday night, I learned the painful lesson that it always ends in a loss as Weber State walked out of the Hornet's Nest with a 68-62 victory.
That heartbreak came the spring before I started high school. As commonly happens in high school, the promise of new adventures distracted me from the Hornets. By junior year, I had discovered Sac State was not perceived as the best place for college, at least for an undergraduate experience. Combined with the urge to live outside my hometown, I opted for the Portland experience.
While looking at games occurring during my final Winter Break, I saw Sunday's game. Why not head back to the Hornet's Nest to see how things had changed?
Guided by the large pink-orange sun as I drove down Fair Oaks Boulevard, the main suburban thoroughfare to Sac State, I made my own pilgrimage westward to see an old acquaintance.
Entering the Hornet's Nest, I realized the differences between childhood memories and experiences as an adult.
What seemed spacious and a hotbed of excitement back in 2004, was still spacious, but with 400 people, I knew the energy level would not be that high.
When I last visited, the atmosphere seemed intense and thrilling with students and my excitement. This time, the break crowd of 400 outnumbered by the sea of green chairs, was populated by local teens and people who might have followed the team since the 1962 D-II title game appearance.
The vertically-hanging flag, scoreboard listing fouls "won", and a shot clock missing a light might have seemed appealing when younger, but served as reminders the University's budget was spent more on improving futures than appealing to spectators.
Even though I was here for business, my intended objectivity was weakened by the "stand until the Hornets make their first basket" and standing until they made their first field goal, a minute after Sac State hit two free throws to start their scoring; the first media timeout contest, in which a kid had to hit three consecutive free throws, and an #omgblox by John Dickson.
As Kevin noted, Sac State built its lead with a 9-0 run, but the Sioux fought back with the help of superhoops and a goaltending call on a Doug Archer jumper in the paint. Through the rest of the first half, I realized I might be treated to two games featuring close ends within four days. Cal State Bakersfield and Portland State went down to the final possessions; could North Dakota and Sac State do the same?
At the half, the dance team "honored the season" with a Rockettes routine and two kids squared off in a hybrid between bowling and basketball.
After the halftime entertainment, I decided to check in on the afternoon's games through the mid-majority and 800GP twitter feeds. Much to my surprise, I saw Kevin's photo of center court; I was not alone at this game. The game had had its exciting parts, but now a tertiary task was to find Kevin! With only a Twitter profile picture as a guide, I decided to take my chances at finding him after the game.
The second half saw Josh McCarver power through a #omgstuffdunk to try again and get fouled, the baseline referee ask for help on a possession call where he did not have the angle, North Dakota's Jamal Webb throw a pass into Sac State's cheerleaders (not Title-R-compliant), and several #nudesuperhoops (attempts with no coverage by defenders) by Sac State to fuel a 13-point cushion.
Just like Cal State Bakersfield rallied against Portland State, North Dakota would not go away easily. As Dylan Garrity brought the ball up the court, Aaron Anderson reached in and stole the ball. Right after Anderson passed to Troy Huff, John Dickson stole the ball back for Sac State.
The comeback would have been snuffed here had Konner Veteto remembered to dribble as he backed toward the basket, earning a traveling call. With the dead ball, Jimmy Webb came back into the game. Webb quickly worked the ball to Anderson who hit a superhoop to cut the lead to nine.
Over the next four and a half minutes, North Dakota kept making mistakes, but Sac State matched the Sioux. If Webb threw the ball away, the defense forced Garrity to do the same. Troy Huff missed a superhoop attempt, but the defense caused Walter Jackson to drag his pivot foot.
Once the defense forced Garrity to give a charge, Webb hit a superhoop to cut the lead to five. The stingy and motivated Sioux defense swapped a missed Joe Eberhard three for a Jordan Allard lay-in and used a Mitch Wilmer block to provide Aaron Anderson the means to cut the lead to one.
Expecting the action to slow down, I wrote in my notes, "this could get interesting." While writing that sentence, Heath Hoffman got fouled in the lane, setting up the huddle and the drive to put the game out of reach.
Jamal Webb would not let the Sioux's last non-conference meeting end without a fight, scoring six of the last nine Sioux points but Dylan Garrity's superhoop-steal-free throw-free throw combo after the last media timeout at 1:52 sealed the victory. Since Garrity is a freshman and Webb is a sophomore, future conference meetings should offer a few more duels, even if they do not guard each other.
After the final buzzer, I walked around to the media table in the off chance I could see the Sac State radio play-by-play guy for Sac State of my youth, but I saw someone standing in a Stanford shirt. After a quick check of his twitter feed, I realized this was Kevin! We chatted briefly before he departed in search of Sac State's SID.
As he went to research his report, I looked at Sac State's athletic accomplishments in trophy and plaque form. All men's basketball had to offer were its 1962 national finalist trophy, a plaque honoring the same team for hitting the most superhoops in D-II and a plaque honoring the 1988 All-Americans. With a few more games like tonight and only two seniors, Sac State could add some 21st-century hardware to their trophy case within the next few seasons.
Despite my efforts to remain objective, that teenage feeling is hard to subdue and I rooted for each side as they made their respective runs and joined in on a few "S! A! C!" chants. When I return to the Hornet's Nest in a few weeks, I will be more likely to focus on the gameplay and less on the accoutrements of a gym that has a smaller capacity than my high school, located a short jaunt down Fair Oaks Blvd.
Our Game serves as a portal to an earlier time, one where rooting interests are often defined by the color of the jersey, the future is the next possession and for a two-hour period, your life is controlled by ten people in colored outfits competing for the ability to celebrate on behalf of their school until they are called to defend their school's honor again, even if the arena honors their sponsors with banners.
at SACRAMENTO STATE 75, NORTH DAKOTA 64 12/18/2011
NORTH DAKOTA 5-6 (0-0) -- J. Webb 7-9 5-6 21; A. Anderson 5-7 2-3 14; P. Mitchell 2-10 0-0 5; T. Huff 3-10 3-3 10; J. Schuler 2-6 0-0 6; J. Allard 1-4 2-4 4; M. Wilmer 1-2 0-0 2; D. Archer 1-2 0-0 2; N. Haugen 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 22-51 12-16 64. SACRAMENTO STATE 5-5 (0-0) -- J. Eberhard 5-10 0-2 13; H. Hoffman 6-8 3-4 19; D. Garrity 2-5 3-4 9; J. Dickson 2-4 5-6 9; J. McCarver 3-6 1-2 7; W. Jackson 4-7 0-0 8; K. Veteto 3-6 2-3 8; J. Estrada 0-1 0-0 0; J. Demalleville 0-0 0-0 0; P. Rakocevic 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 26-49 14-21 75.
Three-point goals: NDAK 8-26 (N. Haugen 0-1; J. Schuler 2-5; P. Mitchell 1-7; A. Anderson 2-3; T. Huff 1-6; J. Webb 2-4), SAC 9-13 (J. Eberhard 3-5; H. Hoffman 4-5; J. Estrada 0-1; D. Garrity 2-2); Rebounds: NDAK 18 (T. Huff 5), SAC 34 (J. McCarver 9); Assists: NDAK 13 (J. Webb 5), SAC 16 (D. Garrity 7); Total Fouls -- NDAK 16, SAC 16; Fouled Out: NDAK-M. Wilmer; SAC-None.