AE – Chapter 9

Riverside’s banners and chants were still resounding strong but since Washington had tied the game they’re cheering also kicked into gear. With the score tied up, the next half would show who wanted the win more. Riverside’s giant green and white banner swung back and forth with Yuna and her fob girls screaming chants in Korean. The referee blew the whistle signaling the end of halftime break.

Dietrich stood next to Grant as Washington strategizing what they should do for this next half. Grant had a slightly impatient look on his face, but this time it was because of the fewer touches he was receiving. Joshua knew Grant was on the verge of going on one of his tantrum explosions so he placed his hand on Grant’s shoulder trying to calm him down. Grant loved to be the hotshot, even if the team would lose at the cost of him showing off.

“As long as we do the same thing we’ve been doing on offense and watch for the give and goes we should be fine. So always call the switches,” Dietrich just wanted to win.

“Just give me the ball and we’ll win this,” Grant broke the huddle and the rest of the boys shook their heads. They knew this wasn’t going to work unless they worked together, especially if they made it into the final round. Derrick spat on the ground.

“Man, I didn’t think the boy was going to be this hard to work with.”

Dietrich cracked a smile and nudged Derrick, “its cause he wants to show off to Jane.”
Derrick just sneered at him and followed after Grant to try to talk some sense into him.

The referee blew the whistle once more and grew impatient as both teams took their time gathering at half court. The ball deferred over to Riverside since Washington started with the ball at the beginning of the first half. Hansol inbounded the ball to Joseph and the final ten minutes had begun.

“RI-VER-SIDE! WA-SHING-TON!” Both sides wanted to win badly.

Riverside produced good ball movement managing to spread the ball around the arc. Suddenly Ted managed to run inside drawing defenders inward, then in a fell swoop popped the ball out towards Aaron before anyone noticed. Aaron knocked in a wide open jumper and Riverside took the lead.

“JOSHUA, WHY DIDN’T YOU CALL THAT ONE!?” Grant was furious.

“Calm down, or I quit.” The Washington’s bleachers gasped as Derrick’s reaction silenced the whole court.

Grant looked at Derrick knowing he over exaggerated and simply shut up. He didn’t even bother answering back and ran down court.

Derrick looked at Joshua that had been stunned by Derrick’s comment, “Joshua, you going to be alright?”

Joshua shook it off, “Yeah, I’m used to it already. He does it all the time during basketball practice. Let’s just win this game.” Joshua inbounded the ball and the spirit of Washington had changed. Instantly Grant became a team player instead of a ball hog.

Washington spread down the court and Dietrich passed the ball outside to Hughes. He shot the open jumper but missed. The rebound was picked up by Grant and he rushed toward the basket. Unexpectedly he faked a layup as he was blocked by two defenders and handed the ball to Joshua in midair. Joshua easily put the ball into the basket. Washington went wild.

For the next few minutes the two teams went back and forth, but Washington became a new form fitting team; no one played for themselves, they played for their team and their school. The score was 27-22 with minute left. Riverside was done. The clock winded down and the referee blew the final whistle.

The referee announced, “Game! Washington Advances to the finals!” Washington High School went into frenzy with students pouring onto the courts and random students hugging each other. Two games down and one more to go, the five boys were ready to take on any team and win it.

Moments into the celebration cheering erupted on the other court and the MC took the stage once more.

“Congratulations entering the final round, CLAREMONT AND WASHINGTON!” The board behind Jinju flickered and the brackets moved Claremont and Washington into the final positions revealing this was no lie. The courts went silent in amazement. Since it was widely known the two schools had been rivals the brackets were purposely made that these two schools wouldn’t play each other out of fear that bad blood may erupt. Since getting into the final round was very difficult Claremont and Washington had never gotten to the final round together.

Suddenly a voice erupted through the silence, “LET’S BEAT “EHM!” Everyone’s eyes transfixed on Charlie as he held up a cheer poster. Washington responded with a great cheer that shook the whole arena.

The five boys were given water and refreshments, with other students even massaging backs and giving tips like coaches.

“It’s amazing how a basketball tournament brings a school together.” Hughes remarked as he enjoyed his ice cold water and massage by a few of Derrick’s fan girls.

“Yeah, well. We still have to win this one Hughes.” Dietrich replied.

“We’ll be fine. We have referees this time.” Joshua brushed a few people aside with his massive hands. He never liked that kind of special attention.

The Riverside boys maneuvered through the crowd and managed to meet up with the five boys. Each exchanged a few words and congratulated them.

“Good game, I knew I was in for a fight when I first saw Riverside practicing.” Dietrich shook and hugged Joseph.

“Ha ha, You guys were pretty tough, I almost though we had you guys till you guys came back.”

“You guys would have had us. Good game man.”

Joseph smiled, “Good game just beat Claremont. I don’t like any of the guys on that team.” Just as he completed his sentence Joseph disappeared into the crowd, Dietrich smiled back and shook his head without being able to reply.

Jinju stepped into the center of the stage and gave another set of announcements as student volunteers from the different key clubs rushed to rearrange bleachers and the final court. Many of the students had stayed filling in the side bleachers, while the bleachers at the end of the court were filled with Washington on one side and Claremont on the other. The difference was stark between Claremont and Washington. Some of the Claremont kids even had dress shirts and slacks on for a sporting event.

“Are you guys ready to know this year’s charity basketball tournament’s winner?” It was responded with a cheer like no other. “Get ready cause we’re going to know in the next few moments~! Can we have both teams meet at the center of the courts and all non-players and volunteers clear the courts? Game on!”

Washington’s five pushed through the crowd toward the center of the field as the students cleared the courts. The high fives, pats on the back, advice, and “good lucks” seemed never ending as they finally made it to the center of the court. Instead of having only one or two referees for the final match, all four referees on duty were on the courts. They checked wristbands to see if any were tampered with, and if any team were cheating. The head referee made a few remarks, “I’ve been noted that both schools are rivals. Let’s just have a clean game and good luck to both of you teams.” Both teams stared each other down.

“Let’s skip the greetings and get on with this.” Erick sneered.

Derrick smiled back noticing a slight blackness around Erick’s eye and lifted up both his hands. “What can I say to that? Game on.”

The referee announced that each team had five minutes before the game started and turned to discuss referring the game themselves.

Even though the two teams had been involved in a fight the night before they hardly looked battered.  Derrick noticed Claremont had switched its line up slightly getting rid of their three stooges with a more athletic looking bunch.

Grant’s face slightly twisted up, “Man… They brought in ringers. I know one of those guys, Pro scouts were watching him. I forgot what school he’s from though.”

“It’s fine, I’m pretty sure they didn’t practice so their flow is probably going to be a little off.” Hughes still looked a little nervous as he spoke.

“Let’s figure out a plan before we start this one. Huddle up.” Derrick brought the boys into a huddle and they started to hammer out and refresh themselves with a few of their old basketball plays when they were on the same team.

Jane walked onto the court giving each of the Washington five a congratulatory hand shake. She stopped at Derrick and smacked him in the head. The Derrick fan girls collapsed nearly screaming at Jane. Derrick had to wave his hand to stop the commotion behind him. He whispered something in Jane’s ear and in that same instance gave a small peck on his cheek. Dietrich’s fan girls went from holding their silence to completely fainting. A section of the bleachers were on their backs foaming from the mouth. A few of the students sitting around them started to fan them trying to revive them. Jane walked away as if nothing had happened.

Dietrich’s face had puzzled written all over it. “What just happened?”

Derrick just grinned and winked back at Dietrich. “Guns blazing, what can I say?”  he ran off toward center court. Dietrich and the rest of the Washington boys shook their heads and trailed Derrick.

The head referee blew his whistle and motioned both teams for a jump ball. Terry looked at Joshua intensely, a look that would have intimidated any normal person but Joshua’s will maintained his composure.

The ball floated into the air. Joshua’s hand tipped the ball back into Hughes, and Hughes shot the ball at Dietrich. A surge of adrenaline ran through Dietrich, his body wasn’t ready for the final game but his mind was. Through the screaming of the crowd Dietrich focused his mind, playing under pressure didn’t come easy to him, but he adjusted to situations well. He was smart, and knew he needed to keep his cool and not freak out. Playing point guard he needed to rely on his teammates more then they relied on each other.

Claremont played aggressively early on and Dietrich had to cross over a defender in order to cross half court. His defender was much quicker and a greater reaches then his man from last night. He dished the ball out to Grant sitting on the baseline. He drove in with the open lane, but Terry creating a huge roadblock. It was déjà vu.

Except Grant wasn’t in the air, and Terry was still the blundering big man that he was. He spun around left first, bouncing off Terry’s stomach and confused Terry. He tossed the ball up without looking at the basket. The ball clunked the front of the rim, and then softly swished through the net. Washington drew first blood and 3/4 of the bleachers exploded. It was obvious everyone was on Washington’s side and Claremont was hated by all. The tallest three stooges’ replacement shot a few words at Terry and Terry didn’t look very happy about it. Erick had to mediate between them and Terry seemed to be okay about it.

“So that one’s James Law. He’s the one I’m talking about. Be careful, he’s got a killer mid range jumper. Hughes, you should guard him like we said. Even though he’s a big man he likes to shoot. Just stay with him and do your best.” Grant motioned Hughes toward James.

Hughes sighed and reluctantly agreed, “Man, why do I have to have guard the hardest people today?”

Washington played full court pressure right back at Claremont. James was bringing the ball down court and was skillfully avoiding the swipes at the ball. It was true, he was as good as Grant had said; good enough to be scouted by the pros. He managed to get to the outside three point arc by himself and launch a fade away three pointer that swished through the basket. James had single handedly brought Claremont into the final round regardless of flow or practice. Claremont faintly cheered through the boos. Erick arced his eyebrows and grinned toward Grant’s direction. Grant’s face took the bantering and fire ignited his eyes. As Grant was about to walk toward Erick, Derrick grabbed his jersey and pulled him into a huddle.

“Don’t lose your head now Grant. We still have the rest of the game to play.”

Grant just looked at Erick’s direction and shook it off. Derrick continued, “let’s run zone, forget guarding that guy one on one. Double him up as soon as he crosses half court. He doesn’t guard inside either or play much defense. Go inside, Joshua hold off Erick’s brother for us.” The five boys broke huddle and Joshua inbounded the ball to Dietrich. Dietrich crossed half court easily this time and penetrated inside. He gave the ball to Derrick, and Derrick drew defenders giving the ball right back to Dietrich as he launched himself the alley-oop. The ball landed into Dietrich’s hand and he redirected the ball into the basket. Washington retook the lead.

Back on defense things took a different turn. James tried the same tactic bricking his next few. He couldn’t shake the double team, and he was obviously unwilling to pass the ball. Even though he was good, Washington gave him more then he could chew.  In five minutes Washington pulled away with a 10 to 5 lead and the Washington bleachers were practically already celebrating. Erick jogged over to James and exchanged a few words. James didn’t look very happy but he nodded and they both ran back court. Erick pushed the ball down court to find James sitting on the outside arc. Hughes closely defended Erick and Grant swooped in. This time James bounced the ball in between his legs sending the ball flying toward center court connecting with Erick. With the mismatch Erick sent the quick midrange jumper flying into the air hitting the backboard sending the ball straight into the basket. Everyone was just astonished by Claremont’s play. Even Grant and Hughes that had been guarding James were still confused and processing what just happened.

Joshua inbounded to Dietrich and Dietrich threw the ball to Derrick that was already positioned down court. Derrick dribbled the ball waiting for his teammates to come down court and easily faked out his defender, nearly playing with him in the process. He spotted Joshua under the rim and set up a three pointer hoping that Joshua would grab the rebound if he missed. Instead his defender had slapped his hand in frustration, and Derrick drew the foul connecting with three easy free throws.

Things however didn’t get any easier for the final three minutes. Even though the team had been leading by eight points, the lead was quickly cut out. Erick’s words seemed to impact the replacements and the team was passing the ball around and learning how each other played in the process. Somehow the lead had been cut to two at halftime.

“What is going on?” Derrick flailed out his hands in frustration.

“Oh, I guess it’s my turn to tell you to calm down Derrick.” Dietrich tried to fan Derrick with his hands.

“Argh, it’s like you think you can hold him down and that guy switches things on you.” Grant vented his frustration, but was calm by his standards.”

Joshua tried to realign the team, “Let’s just stick to what we’re doing. What more can we do besides run our plays and defend like we’re doing?”

“But they’re getting smarter as we play. We get killed on the mismatches.” Hughes was always the smart one.

“Fine, we need to get smarter as they get smarter, got a plan Dietrich?” Derrick looked at their resident Point Guard.

“You can bet your new girlfriend on it!” Dietrich unloaded his strategy as the team hydrated and caught their breath.
Half time ended quickly as the final whistle blew to mark the final ten minutes of the tournament. Claremont would start with the ball since the first possession was Washington’s. Claremont inbounded the ball to James and he quickly swung over to Erick. Erick spun and passed to Terry on the inside. An easy two points, and in the first thirty seconds of the second half, the game was tied.

“Easy, exactly like we said.” Joshua inbounded to Dietrich and the retaliation was on. Dietrich used Joshua almost as a shield. They ran down court in tandem with Joshua nearly shoving defenders aside. As they reached the three point arc both of them sped up, Joshua halted right at the front of the basket but Dietrich continued to run. He jumped placing one hand on Joshua’s shoulder launching him into the air over Joshua. He brought both hands and ball behind his head slamming the ball into basket. Washington and the side bleachers nearly died from not breathing. Everyone was screaming their heads off as Dietrich had just slammed the ball into the basket. Washington looked as if they were ready to pour onto the court as if they had already won.

In the midst of the celebration Terry had inbounded the ball to Erick and they ran down court quietly placing well placed jumper for an easy bucket. The crowd quickly hushed itself. Derrick spoke to Dietrich as they jogged down the court, “After that dunk I think there’s going to be a new Dietrich fan club. I didn’t expect something like that from you.”

“Yeah, I didn’t either. It kind of just happened.” Both boys laughed and Dietrich passed the ball the Derrick. Derrick went to work with his defender easily driving past him once again. He drove towards the basket and dished back out to Hughes. Hughes knocked in a three from way downtown and Washington began to put up some numbers, but Claremont stayed close behind. The two other ringers from Claremont began to heat up knocking in a jumper here, a three ball here, and even a few layups. With two minutes left the game was at a standstill. 36-39. The referees hadn’t called much, Claremont was playing a surprisingly clean game, besides the fact that they brought in ringers from a different school.

The clock ticked down, and stands were rooting for Riverside to close it up. A combination of zone defense and making a high percentage of their shots kept them narrowly ahead of Claremont.

Dietrich held the ball at the top of the three point arc winding the clock down a bit so that there would be less chance for Claremont to comeback. At three seconds left he feinted in then stepped back creating space for a shot, instead he spotted Hughes cutting from his man running towards the basket and decided to bounce the ball over to him. However, he had spotted the ball too late and ended up in the defender’s hands as he trailed behind him. Hughes was still looking for the ball as he thought Dietrich had shot the ball up as the whole Claremont team rushed down court. James easily tore apart the mismatched defense and cut the lead down to one. 38 – 39. There was 30 seconds left on the clock and people were getting worried Claremont may actually take it this year.

Dietrich stood at half court dribbling the ball just waiting for time to run out. Then three defenders made their move by rushed at him desperate to make a final attempt at the basket to steal the win. He tried to hold the ball away from them but instead the ball went flying into the air luckily landing into the hands of Derrick. Instead of keeping possession Erick’s hands managed to fly out of nowhere and tear the ball out of Derrick’s hands. Less than ten seconds on the clock and Claremont was running down court with the ball with a wide open lane.

Derrick and Dietrich both closely trailed behind Erick praying that he made the mistake of exaggerating his layup or even missing. Instead he suddenly stopped in front of the three point line and both Derrick and Dietrich went flying forward blowing past Erick. Five seconds left on the clock. The remainder of Washington defenders caught up and Erick knew it. He spotted James on the right corner behind the arc and lobbed the ball over to him. Two seconds were left on the clock. James grinned, wide open he shot the ball into the air with such great form; the ball spun with such amazing rotation. The arena gasped as the ball simply hung in the air then slowly started to fall. The fate of the tournament rested on this final shot.

In that instance Dietrich watched as all their hard work laid in the balance of the ball in the sky, Derrick couldn’t believe this was happening; everyone’s heads were shaking praying that the wind would change the course of the ball. In what seemed like forever the ball finally came down clonking on the rim, once, twice… then falling down to the ground. James had missed the basket. Washington had won.