LCass’ right food tapped a steady staccato against the polished hardwood, the movement betraying her otherwise relaxed posture as she sat on the bleacher. Her gaze was distant, her focus ostensibly on her teammates warming up nearby.
She looked up at the greeting, a quick smile crossing her face. “Kayzee.”
“Big night tonight, LCass.” He dropped his bag to the floor and stretched out beside her.
“You’re telling me.”
People were filing into the stadium now; other players, referees, spectators. The low hum of conversation masked the uneasy mix of anticipation and anxiousness that had been building in the players all day.
“We’ll be fine, LCass,” Kayzee said now, as he rose to join those warming up. “We just gotta play our game.”
“I’ve got a good feeling about this,” Spencer told them as the siren sounded to start the game.
He saw some quick smiles at his usual joke, but the varying degrees of anxiousness on their faces precluded genuine amusement. A small smile flickered over his face as he watched them file onto the court. They’d be fine.
They were coming out strong, Becky H thought to herself, already feeling the burn in her muscles and the rasp of air in her lungs. She faced down the opposition point guard, her entire focus on the movement of his hands and the ball he was dribbling. In a move quicker than lightning, she shifted, left hand reaching out to pick his pocket. He fought for the ball but she caught it cleanly, passing quickly off to Spencer. Spencer cleared the ball from the key and moved it down-court, looking instantly for JC. The moment he’d freed himself from his defender, Spencer lobbed the ball in, and JC’s quick catch and release put two more points on the board for the Slamburgers
The sound of the whistle was sharp in JC’s ears as the referee called a foul, signalling two free throws for the opposition. Sweat beaded on his forehead, trickling down his face as he took the opportunity for a breather. As the second shot went up, he readied himself, feeling the muscles in his legs bunch, his breath catch as he waited for the right…now! He launched himself upwards, leaping high to corral the rebound. The ball was rough against the skin of his palms as he caught it firmly, before landing and immediately turning to run. His head came up, eyes scanning the court ahead. When he spotted Dirk running the break, he picked up his dribble and threw a bullet pass down-court. Catching it on the run, Dirk took two long strides and banked in the layup.
Cheers broke out from the bleachers where the Slamburgers’ fans sat, but JC barely heard them. His focus was on the ball, already being brought up the court. He turned briefly, calling out for the D to tighten up, warning his teammates the ball had been inbounded. The score was close–too close–and they needed to play better defence.
Iris felt the breath whoosh from her lungs as she caught an elbow to the chest. Ignoring the momentary breathlessness, she firmed her defensive stance and hunkered down. Her opponent backed up hard, again, trying to force Iris further back. When she turned and tried to shoot, Iris slammed her palm into the ball, sending it flying away. Cheers broke out from the crowed, and Kayzee’s cry of “Yeah, IRIS!” cut clear through the noise. She cast around, looking for the ball, but Spartacus was already there, diving on the floor to grab it before the opposition could. Somehow, he managed to get the ball out to Kayzee, and the Slamburgers had another possession. Iris and Spartacus took a deep breath, forcing away the weariness burning in their legs, and together broke into a run down-court.
Darko stood before his team in the timeout. The game was tight, and there was less than five minutes to go. Dirk, LCass and JC were hanging their heads, beating themselves up for missing shots, while Iris looked exhausted from the beating she was taking under the rim. Spencer, Spartacus and Kayzee were working hard to cheer the team up, and Darko gave them an encouraging nod–this was their game to win, he knew it.
“We make the right decisions, and we win this,” Darko told his team, steady and confident. “It’s a single possession game. We just relax and do what we do.”
“Back yourselves,” Kayzee added. “We got this.”
Darko could see the words steadying them, bringing back some confidence. The referee’s whistle sounded, and together they filed back onto the court.
Kayzee drove hard into the key, drawing two defenders after him before kicking the ball back out. LCass caught the ball on the three-point-line, wide open, and rose up to take the shot. It looked good coming out of her hands, but the ball circled the rim before falling out. Bitter frustration filled her, burning in its intensity, and she ran back on defence as the opposition caught the rebound and pushed the ball quickly down-court.
Becky H sat on the bench, hands curled tight in anxiousness, watching the final minutes unfold. Her team was doing everything they needed to, getting the right shots for themselves, but nothing was falling. The three-pointer from the opposition was a dagger, pushing the lead to five with less than two minutes on the clock. Even so, the Slamburgers kept fighting. With patience, they won themselves an open three for Dirk, but the shot went wide. A drive and pull-up from JC rolled off the rim and out.
Inexorably, the seconds ticked down. The Slamburgers were going to lose. The cheers from the other end of the bench rose in intensity as a win for their team became a certainty.
The spectators watched the Slamburgers gather by the bench after they’d congratulated the winning team. The heavy air of disappointment that hung over them was palpable, but they were clustered close together, already giving each other words of encouragement.
The Slamburgers were a team; the spectators could see that clear as day. And they’d have another chance at the finals. It was inevitable.