It was 60 degrees in southern Connecticut on Thursday which, if we didn't know before, let us know that spring is on the way (I even got to go out and hit some tennis balls today, yikes.)
For us, it means that the end is near. We knew it was coming. We always know it's coming. For some of us, like St. Francis of Pennsylvania, it probably can't come soon enough. The Red Flash, whose season will end Saturday, were absolutely blasted by Quinnipiac 77-44 in my last appearance at TD Bank Arena.
But the score is rarely relevant when we're telling our stories, and it wasn't here.
Because tonight was about Griff's Chicken Shack, one of the finest local establishments around, and a pregame ritual as it lies just down the hill from the game.
It was about saying goodbye to the woman who sells me a program for $1 every game, and never gets to see a second of the action. Except for the one night they were selling other stuff outside and they moved her into the arena, much to her delight.
It was about one more trip around the concourse, knowing it would be another eight months before I would be back. Insert sad music here.
(Quinnipiac could hypothetically host an NEC semifinal or final, but it's a long, long shot. They actually have one more home game on television that I can't attend, Saturday at 11 a.m. EST on ESPNU against Robert Morris.)
But, really, this night belonged to two people you've never heard of and likely never will again. And that's a shame.
Keith Gaither is Quinnipiac's No. 1 fan. He never misses a game, always arrives early to his courtside seat, likes to ride the officials a little, but loves dunks the most. He doesn't get to see many of those in the women's game, but he's there front and center for every one of those games, too.
This would be much easier for 17-year-old Keith if he could have full use of his arms or legs. Of course, a lot of things would be easier. Like getting to school, for instance, as this article sadly portrays.
The thing about kids like Keith, though, is they don't feel sorry for themselves (if you didn't take the time to read the article, Keith has cerebral palsy). Over the last few years, I've seen Keith at every game, always cheering, always positive toward his beloved Bobcats, even when the scoreboard indicates differently. As Charles Swindoll famously said, "The only thing we can do is play the one thing we have and that is our attitude."
Kevin Tarca knows a little about that. Surely, at 5-foot-10 and without a gliterring basketball resume, he knew when he tried to walk on to the Quinnipiac team three years ago that he would never be a star. But college basketball needs practice players, and Tarca was there every day. He got in the end of 12 games his sophomore year and managed three points, and picked up four last season.
But he hadn't scored in his senior year heading into Thursday. With the game well, well out of hand, the student section started the "We want Tar-ca" chant at the under-8 timeout. At the under-4, coach Tom Moore called Tarca over. It was a false alarm, though. Finally, with 1:51 left, Tarca was in.
The crowd implored him to shoot every time he touched it, no matter that he was 35 feet away with a hand in his face. With time running down, though, his opportunity arrived. He faked, performed a crossover anyone above the Red Line would have been proud of, and drew the foul, but his shot went in and out.
The fans went nuts, the bench all stood up, the assistant coaches had to hide their laughter with their clipboards, and even the indefatigably stoic Moore cracked a slight grin. At least, I think he did.
Tarca went to the line and missed the first free throw. And then clanked the second, too.
Stupid real life.
He'll have at least one other chance if he starts on Senior Day Saturday morning, and it would be better to score on national television anyway, right?
Besides, in a shocking development, there are more important things to life than basketball. As the buzzer sounded, Gaither was wheeled to his normal spot just outside the Quinnipiac locker room so he could get some high-fives and hugs from the victorious Bobcats and the coaches as they made their way inside.
As Keith waited patiently for the final assistant coach, Scott Burrell (the former UConn star had to handle radio duties and always gets his share of autograph requests on the way in, which he always handles graciously), to come over, a woman came over and put a cardboard box in Keith's lap. Burrell made his way inside and Keith waited again for Coach Moore to finish up.
A few minutes went by, and out came Tarca and fellow senior James Johnson to wheel their biggest fan inside the locker room where presumably the box was finally going to be opened.
Curious, I asked one of the people that drives Keith to and from the games what was in the box.
"I don't know. Keith got something for the guys. He was really secret about it, so it must be good."
I'm guessing it was the best gift ever. For both parties.
at QUINNIPIAC 77, SAINT FRANCIS (PA) 44 02/23/2012
SAINT FRANCIS (PA) 6-22 (5-12) -- R. Price 5-13 0-0 13; A. Ervin 2-8 0-0 4; S. Whyatt 1-5 1-2 3; S. Eatherton 7-12 2-2 16; K. Ritter 0-2 2-4 2; J. Taylor 3-4 1-2 7; E. Brown 2-7 0-0 4; O. Jackson 1-5 0-0 3; T. Peters 0-2 0-0 0; S. Stanley 2-2 1-3 5. Totals 18-47 7-13 44. QUINNIPIAC 16-12 (9-8) -- D. Johnson 8-11 0-0 19; J. Johnson 2-5 0-0 5; I. Azotam 9-11 0-1 18; Z. Hearst 7-8 1-2 15; O. Drame 6-8 1-1 13; G. Young 0-3 2-2 2; E. Conti 0-2 0-2 0; J. Harris 1-2 1-2 3; N. Gause 0-5 0-0 0; A. Jackson 0-1 0-0 0; T. Bobb-Jones 1-1 0-0 2; K. Tarca 0-0 0-2 0; T. Wood-Smith 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 34-58 5-12 77.
Three-point goals: SFPA 1-9 (A. Ervin 0-4; T. Peters 0-1; S. Whyatt 0-1; O. Jackson 1-3), QUIN 4-10 (D. Johnson 3-4; J. Johnson 1-2; E. Conti 0-1; N. Gause 0-2; Z. Hearst 0-1); Rebounds: SFPA 19 (S. Eatherton 6), QUIN 34 (Z. Hearst 8); Assists: SFPA 9 (A. Ervin 3), QUIN 20 (J. Johnson 8); Total Fouls -- SFPA 11, QUIN 16; Fouled Out: SFPA-None; QUIN-None.