Classic in the Country

Tri-Valley’s ‘Twilight Zone’ win is one for the CitC record books

Scotties enter "The Twilight Zone" to score a CitC win

Photos by James Wagler

Rod Serling would have found great satisfaction in the opening game of Classic in the Country action on day two between Sycamore and Dresden Tri-Valley on Sunday, Jan. 20 at the Perry Reese Community Center.

Serling was the host of the old television show, “The Twilight Zone,” a show that featured strange, weird and unbelievable stories that transcend description.

That pretty succinctly sums up Tri-Valley’s 44-43 victory over Sycamore.

Tri-Valley’s head coach Kurt Kaufman is a Hiland High School alumni, graduating in 1996 as a baseball and basketball star. Apparently, even though he never played in the Reese Center, having logged his basketball time in the old Hawks’ Nest, he took some of that Hiland magic with him.

Somehow the very fact that the Scotties won the game on Laiken Little’s second of two free throws with 0.7 seconds left to play was a mere afterthought. How could a game-winning free throw with no time left in the game be overshadowed? That is where the truly weird and unbelievable comes into play.

The Lady Aves came storming out of the gate and took a ridiculous 18-0 lead over the Scotties, a fast-paced run that left Tri-Valley and their faithful stunned. For Sycamore it was every team’s dream. For Tri-Valley it was every team’s nightmare.

But somehow, from somewhere, the Scotties began clawing their way back from that massive chasm in which they found themselves.

“No big deal,” Kaufman joked. “We were down 18, but we had obviously not played to the caliber that we are capable of playing. It was a matter of when are we going to start playing. To their credit, they are as physical as we are, and usually we are the most physical team, so it took us a little bit of time to adjust to their speed and their physicality. But our girls have been on the big stage before. There is a will about them, and they showed that.”

Kaufman said that with each timeout during the early struggles, his kids came into the huddle looking confused, but when the ball finally went in, they seemed to break the spell of what he called the “teeny-tiny rim.”

It was almost as though Rod Serling himself had cued up the music as the improbable became a reality, and if one listened closely enough, they could perchance hear the haunting melody of “The Twilight Zone” playing, “Doo-doo-doo-doo, doo-doo-doo-doo, doo-doo-doo-doo.”

Leah Riley, Brianna Counts and Aliah McWhorter had given the Lady Aves that huge lead. However, Tri-Valley finally found the bucket and staged a comeback, courtesy of the long ball, as Little buried two threes and Audrey Spiker and Lauren King each connected from downtown to trim the deficit to 18-15.

For Tri-Valley, trailing 29-20 at the half never felt so good.

“Typically we have three to four girls in double figures, and they are different girls on any given night, so we figured just keep getting the best shot available,” Kaufman said.

Once the barrage of 3-pointers was over — the Scotties wouldn’t hit another one the rest of the game — they started penetrating and pounding it down low to All-Ohioan Kyndal Howe and Spiker. By the 2:24 mark of the third period, two Howe free throws had locked the game up at 34.

Sycamore’s talented crew wasn’t about to give in and eventually retook a five-point lead, but five points is nothing when you’ve battled back from 18-down.

Finally, with Serling watching on from who knows what astral plane in “The Twilight Zone,” Lauren King’s put-back went down, and the Scotties held a most improbable 40-39 lead.

It was far from over. McWhorter hit a short jumper, but Howe’s and-one gave Tri-Valley a 43-41 edge. Riley canned a pair of free throws, and after the teams traded empty possessions, the Lady Aves held it for the final shot. That came up short when the Scotties came up with a loose ball when Janie McLoughlin made a steal and hoisted a long pass out in front of a host of players flying down the floor as time ticked down. Little grabbed it, drove to the hoop and was fouled with less than one second to play.

“Our goal was to play a passing lane, which we did, and then get a run-out, which happened to work out,” Kaufman said. “The rest is history.”

She missed her first shot, and after a time-out, she calmly hit the second to win the game … Aaaaaaaannd scene. Another “Twilight Zone” episode in the can.

During the time-out between Little’s miss and make, Kaufman proved prophetic in what he told his team in the huddle.

“I told [Little] she was going to make it and we weren’t going to foul,” Kaufman said. “Laiken is a senior who isn’t afraid of the big stage. She isn’t afraid of the moment. I knew she was going to make it.”

Kaufman said he once had a boys team come back from 16 points down with five minutes to play, but he has never seen a team fall behind 18, only to come back and pull out a win. What oftentimes happens with big comeback bids is teams work so hard to come back that they simply can’t find the strength and willpower to get over the hump. This Scotties team did in a most fascinating and strange way as it created one more very unique moment in CitC history.

“That’s what basketball is all about,” Kaufman said. “Everybody contributed. We played hard and believed in ourselves. It wasn’t always pretty, but at the end of the day, nobody cares about that.”

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