Thursday, February 28, 2013

Age is Just a Number When it Comes to Coaching

14-year-old Hunter Mallow leads his team to victory!

Playoff action for local youth basketball teams tipped off last night in the heart of the igloo at Northern Garrett High School. The first game of the night was the 4th seed Mountaineers against the 6th seed Bearcats. The Bearcats had not won a game all season, so it came as no surprise that the Mountaineers won handily 25-5. The Mountaineers will face the Cardinals tonight at 7:30 p.m.

The game of the season is what followed. The 3rd seed Hoyas faced the 5th seed Wildcats. The Hoyas had only lost two games all season entering the playoffs, and that was to the top two seeds; whereas the Wildcats had only won two games all season. The Hoyas were projected to blow the Wildcats away.

Coach of the Wildcats
Hunter Mallow
The young, spirited coach of the Wildcats, Hunter Mallow (pictured at left), had a different plan in mind. When asked about the game before tip off, he said,” Number 10 is going to be our only real problem. He has dribbling skills of most varsity players, and rarely misses an open jump shot. If we stop him we stand a chance.” When asked how he planned on stopping number 10, Justin Cox, Mallow just smiled and said, “I have a few things in mind.”

As the players were announced and the game began, it was easy to see the excitement in all the players faces, as well as the parents and fans.

The Hoyas jumped out to an early 6-0 lead in the first quarter. Coach Mallow then called a timeout to rally the troops. He sent his team back onto the court in a triangle-and-two defensive set up, which means that two players double team the best player and the remaining three stay in a triangle zone formation.  This defense quickly proved successful with a few quick turnovers forced by the Wildcats, and within three minutes the score was 8-6, which is how the first quarter ended.

In the break between quarters the Wildcats were filled with enthusiasm about their comeback, and Mallow assured them that if they kept up what they were doing, they would win the game.

The second quarter started off ugly for the Wildcats. Within the first three minutes the Hoyas were winning 14-6. It seemed as though the Hoyas coach had figured out the defense, and they were cracking it every time down the court. Mallow kept encouraging his players from the bench to keep in the same formation defensively, and at half the score was 16-8.

At the half, parent of a Wildcats player Christy Funk stated that, “The kids just look dead right now. They came out ready to play, but it looks like this one is about to get away from us.”

As the second half began, there was no sign of surrender in the eyes of any Wildcats. It was obvious that Coach Mallow had made some adjustments at the half. Within the first two minutes of the third quarter the Wildcats had scored six points, and held the Hoyas to 0. The score didn’t change, and the quarter closed with a score of 16-14, in favor of the Hoyas.

The fourth quarter began with more intensity than ever anticipated in a youth league basketball game. The players were diving on the floor for every ball, and playing great defense. The entire quarter was a back-and-forth battle. With 30 seconds left on the clock, the score was 20-18 in favor of the Hoyas.

Coach Mallow called a timeout, and got his players together for one last speech. He said, “Play with everything you have guys because the next 30 seconds determines the end of your season.” With one last chant of “1-2-3 Wildcats!!!” the team headed back to the floor.

The ball was inbounded to the Hoyas, and as their best player began dribbling down the court, the ref blew the whistle. There had been a traveling violation called on the Hoyas, so it was now the Wildcats ball with 16 seconds left, still down by two.

The ball inbounded to 6th grader Katie Bittinger, and she quickly dribbled up the court. By the time she reached half court the clock was at ten seconds. You could have cut the tension in the room as a knife, and the crowd began to count down.

That’s when 4th grader Carder Durst set a screen for Katie at the 3-point line allowing her to dribble into the paint. With time winding down Katie threw the ball up towards the basket. Everyone in the stands held their breath as the ball traveled through the air. The ball went through the net just as Katie was thrown to the ground by a defender. The basket was good and there was a foul on the play, so Katie got a free throw attempt.

With three seconds remaining on the clock, Katie Bittinger stepped up to the line, took a few breaths, bounced the ball a few times, and shot. The ball swooshed right through the net, and the crowd went wild.

The score was 21-20 in favor of the Wildcats with three seconds remaining. The Hoyas inbounded the ball to their best player, and he fired up a half court shot, but it was to no avail. The Wildcats had upset the Hoyas in the first round of playoff action.

After the game I spoke with Katie Bittinger’s mom, Jodie Bittinger, about her daughters amazing performance. “I am just almost in tears right now. Words cannot describe how proud I am of not only her, but also this entire team this season. It has been a battle all season, but I have to hand it to Hunter Mallow. That boy never lost faith in these kids, and they needed someone like that.”

It’s amazing how the faith that one 14-year-old coach had in a group of kids not only inspired them, but also led them to victory. It just goes to show that you can have a positive impact no matter how old you are.

The Wildcats face the Panthers at 8:30 tonight for round two action.

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