By Bruce Karnick
Sports in general are tough to predict, not as tough as the weather, but still tough. Add to it the unpredictability of teenagers and as Forrest Gump said, ‘you never know what you are gonna get.’ Some days, student athletes struggle, and that is ok, or some days, things simply do not go as planned, which is also ok. These are just some of important lessons that academic based athletic competitions can teach. Monday night at Eagan was one of those nights for the Raider lady hoopsters. One of the Raiders leading scorers was out against the Wildcats and things just didn’t go as planned. The 3-1 Raiders fell to 3-2 with a 6420 loss. The simple side of this story? Stuff happens, and this time, it was not in the favor or the blue and gold.
Move ahead to Friday, a miscommunication somewhere and the game against St. Anthony Village ended up cancelled. Stuff happens, right?
Saturday, the Raiders traveled to Woodbury to take on New Life Academy (NLA). The Eagles are a smaller team at a smaller school, so Hastings should have had their way with them. With around two minutes left in the first half, NLA was ahead 25-22. Hastings defense was playing well and controlling the flow of the game, but shots were not dropping. The Raiders were taking good shots too, they just didn’t connect. Stuff happens. The lesson here for Hastings was, how to react when stuff happens that is not in your favor.
Hastings reacted well, they kept their head high and kept playing their game. A solid defense that gave the offense a chance to take quality shots. Next thing you know, the Raiders went on a 9-point run and had the lead at the half 31-25.
Head Coach Sheri Mc-Leod had a simple message for her team at the half, “We need to just continue to do what we were doing. Being patient on offense, being aggressive on defense, and boxing out.”
The Raiders started the second half aggressive on both ends of the court, that caused a few offensive miscues and allowed NLA to tie the game at 31. The Eagles are a scrappy team for a small school. They played the Raiders tough. Once the Raiders settled back down and took control of the pace of the game, things improved a little. Unfortunately for Hastings, they just seemed a little out of sorts. They had their moments of cohesiveness on offense, but never truly settled into a clean execution of the offensive game plan. There were not glaring mistakes, things just felt a hair off. That tiny misalignment showed on the scoreboard.
Hastings could have won this game by 20 and they probably should have. The patience on offense piece was centered around ball movement, or lack thereof. There were Raiders all over the floor open for uncontested shots all afternoon. They simply fell one pass short of finding the open player a little too often. Again, the other shots taken were still good shots, but were there opportunities for even higher percentage shots, yes. Even 10 more high percentage shots could mean the 20-point difference on offense.
Freshman and second year varsity player, Keagan McVicker was on fire defensively as were many of the Raider players. Defensive rebounds were a huge aspect for Hastings as were straight up steals. The issue was turning those defensive wins into points. The ladies were taking smart shots, the shots were not falling, and the second chances were not happening. This allowed the Eagles to stay in the game until the final buzzer.
McVicker talked about the defensive side after the game. “I think we just didn’t give up. We kept trying even though it was a back-andforth game, we just had confidence and never gave up on ourselves.”
The game did bounce back and forth on the scoreboard and with the clock running out, Hastings had a chance to tie the game at 53. Senior Lilly Nyutten went up for the shot and was fouled. At the line, Nyutten readied her first shot… swish! 53-52 Eagles with maybe 15 seconds left… Shot two from the charity stripe bounced off the front of the rim… the backboard… aaaand… PUT IT ON THE BOARD! Nyutten tied the game at 53 and the Raiders side of the gym went crazy.
But the game was not over. The Eagles quickly moved the ball down the court, the clock winding down, and a huge defensive stop for Hastings had the ball go out of bounds with 5.5 left on the clock. Raider ball!
If there was any time for the Raiders to ignore the thought of “being patient on offense” this was when you might think it would happen. In fact, the opposite did. The inbound pass was blocked and the ball went out of bounds again, Raider ball, but this time with 3.5 seconds left on the clock, tied at 53.
This next sequence happened so fast, it was hard to tell who got the ball over to Nyutten for the final shot of regulation. The inbound pass came from the bench side of the court, made it to the middle where a Raider had a potential shot to make, but this is where the patience paid off. The Raider in the middle realized she did not have as clear of a shot and to her left, about 12 feet from the hoop on the crowd side of the court sat Nyutten, wide open. The connection pass was made and Nyutten went up for the 12 foot fade away jumper… SwishBUZZZZZZ! The Raider bench cleared, the crowd went crazy and the Raiders hit a buzzer beater to 4-2 on the season winning 55-53.
McVicker was asked about that final play after the game. “Well, honestly, that was really lucky. I’m not gonna lie. We had no play drawn up. We just tried to get it on the floor and pass round and I think we really were unselfish with the ball not wanting the winning shot. We just wanted to get the easiest shot, which is what how we got that.”
Patience paid off and this time, stuff happened for the blue and gold.
The core group of girls on this team has played so well together so far this season, and a big part of that core has been the young McVicker. Even as a freshman, she is looked at as a leader on this team, a role that can be overwhelming for a 15-yearold and can cause issues for older players. That is not the case for this team. McVicker is a player that is easy to follow. She has a good head on her shoulders, knows the game of basketball, has a great skillset and the right attitude to lead. Regarding being one of the core leaders on the team, McVicker had this to say. “It’s an honor. Honestly, I love just having like a team culture and being with everybody because honestly, when we’re on the court, age doesn’t matter. It’s just we’re all there together playing basketball, having fun.”
The girls certainly are having fun and at 4-2, they are at the top of the Metro East Conference. Tuesday Hastings will have another tough opponent in Northfield at home. Then they travel to Richfield Friday, December 17 at 7:00 for the final game of the 2021 calendar year.
The Raiders kick off 2022 hosting Park of Cottage Grove on Thursday, January 6 at 7:00 p.m. This should be a wild game at home and hopefully, if there is one game you attend this season, it’s this one. Get out and show your support of these kids. It means the world to them to see the stand packed.