March 12, 2008 will always be a day I will never forget. It was a day where four friends and I excitedly marched into the Pitt Center, ready to witness the third-seeded Sacred Heart Pioneers capture the Northeast Conference championship and qualify for their first ever NCAA tournament. There we were, with 2,700 of our closest Pioneer friends, crammed into the makeshift gym with visions of storming the court in our heads.
We were all eager to be part of Sacred Heart history.
Once the game was underway, it was evident that the Pioneers were in for a battle. It was an ugly performance, to say the least, so ugly that friends of mine thought they were watching a live high school basketball game on ESPN 2. But despite trailing for most of the game, Sacred Heart was only down two points with three minutes remaining in the second half. Dave Bike, Sacred Heart's only Division 1 coach in its history, called a timeout to draw up a play that would involve his two best players, Drew Shubik and Brice Brooks.
The play seemed simple enough - Shubik would feed the ball down low to Brooks, our best post player, and Brooks would take care of the rest. There was one problem however. The ball never made it to Brooks. As Shubik started his pass into the low block, Brooks adjusted his post position to the left. The pass went right, and the ball found its way into the hands of the defender.
Twenty seconds later, a three pointer by the opposing team began a brutal sports hangover that no one could have ever imagined. It was depressing, crushing, and literally ruined the rest of my week.
Nearly four years later, I was back at the scene of the crime. Yes, I had been to the Pitt Center a number of times after the heartbreaking championship loss, but I had never seen the Pioneers take on the opposing team from that fateful March night. That opposing team was the Mountaineers of Mount St. Mary's.
This time around, there was no championship match-up, no free t-shirts, no jacked-up college students. Sacred Heart head coach Dave Bike was still patrolling the sidelines (in his typical dark mock-neck and sport jacket, I might add), but Milan Brown - Mount St. Mary's coach from their championship season - had since left for greener (as in money) pastures at Holy Cross. Now, I was treated to a pair of mediocre teams doing battle on a Saturday afternoon, in front of maybe 700 listless fans (the official attendance was generously listed at 909).
The game oddly enough took on the framework of the last championship encounter. Mount. St. Mary's led throughout most of the game, until Sacred Heart's Stan Dulaire completed a three-point play late in the second half, to even the score at 60-60. The momentum swing did nothing to deter Mount St. Mary's freshman Kelvin Parker though, as he responded with two 3-pointers and a sensational assist to give the Mountaineers a supposedly commanding eight point lead with two minutes left on the clock. My Mount St. Mary's/Sacred Heart nightmare was being brought back to the surface.
This time around though, the resilient Pioneers fought back. Remarkably, a Shane Gibson 3-pointer - to give him 35 points for the afternoon - evened the score and inevitably brought the game to overtime. Maybe Sacred Heart would pull this one out after all.
After an uneventful first overtime where a total of eight points were scored, the game moved ahead into a second overtime. Gibson, wasting no time, hit a jumper in the first seven seconds of the second overtime to give Sacred Heart a quick lead. Things looked rosy for the Pioneers, when Gibson again scored to extend the lead to four points with a minute and a half remaining. On the bucket, Shane Gibson scored his career best 41st point, and broke a school record in the process.
But as Sacred Heart had disappointed me nearly four years ago, the Mountaineers somehow managed to score five points on their final two possessions to wrestle the win away from the Pioneers. It was once again depressing and crushing.
I sat in my chilly parked car for ten minutes trying to figure out what went wrong. A four point lead with the ball, less than one minute left and we lost the game? It wasn't as brutal as the Pioneers' near NCAA miss, but it was still a tough one to swallow nonetheless.
College basketball fandom can just be so cruel sometimes.
MOUNT SAINT MARY'S 81, at SACRED HEART 80 01/28/2012
MOUNT SAINT MARY'S 5-16 (3-7) -- K. Noreen 3-5 0-0 6; J. Norfleet 7-20 0-0 16; J. Castellanos 6-16 4-6 19; K. Parker 3-9 2-2 11; K. Krajina 1-4 5-8 7; D. Thompson 5-6 3-4 13; R. Barber 3-4 4-6 10; X. Owens 2-3 1-2 5; C. Holley 0-3 0-0 0; J. Wells 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 27-66 19-28 81. SACRED HEART 10-13 (4-6) -- S. Gibson 16-28 3-4 41; P. Gaetano 1-3 2-2 5; L. Montes 4-11 2-2 11; S. Dulaire 2-3 4-5 8; E. Kelley 1-4 0-0 3; J. Swidowski 4-7 1-2 10; N. Greenbacker 0-3 0-0 0; S. Glowiak 0-4 2-2 2; F. Akinpetide 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-63 14-17 80.
Three-point goals: MSM 8-20 (J. Castellanos 3-9; J. Norfleet 2-4; C. Holley 0-1; K. Parker 3-6), SH 10-29 (S. Gibson 6-13; N. Greenbacker 0-3; E. Kelley 1-2; J. Swidowski 1-1; S. Glowiak 0-4; L. Montes 1-3; P. Gaetano 1-3); Rebounds: MSM 42 (D. Thompson 9), SH 30 (L. Montes 6); Assists: MSM 10 (J. Castellanos 3), SH 11 (P. Gaetano 8); Total Fouls -- MSM 15, SH 21; Fouled Out: MSM-K. Krajina; SH-L. Montes.