There are paramount moments in our lives when time stands still.
Those moments killed the Golden Warriors in Sycamore on Monday.
They shot 9-for-21 (42.9 percent) with the clock stopped, including 2-for-9 in the second half. Just a 50-percent clip at the line could have made all the difference in the final score. The reality was a 41-40 setback and a tough pill to swallow.
“We knew free throws were a big deal coming into this game,” Sterling junior Steph Kester said. “If we made half of them, we probably would’ve won.”
But that innocent-looking strip of black wasn’t the only thing that tripped up the Warriors.
With the clock stopped at 7:15 and the Blue Thunder’s lead at 33-31, the Warriors got caught napping on an inbounds play. They somehow lost the biggest player on the floor, 5-foot-11 Katie Dovenmuehle, right underneath the basket. Her unopposed zero-footer built the lead to 35-31 and the two points loomed large about 15 minutes later, when Sterling senior Aleena Hammelman needed a moment to gather her thoughts before expressing her disbelief.
“I don’t think we were ready,” she said. “We didn’t think the ref was going to hand them the ball that quickly.”
After sitting out the final 13 minutes, 21 seconds of the first half with two fouls, Hammelman was a young woman on a mission in the second half, racking up team highs in points (8), rebounds (8) and assists (3).
Just two weeks after returning from a broken right fibula, the senior ferociously tore down rebounds. She sacrificed her body with reckless abandon to draw fouls in the paint. When an opponent found a way to stay between her and the basket, she made exceptional interior passes.
But after hitting her first freebie, she missed her next six. Only after a hard foul by Kirsten Larson with 2 minutes to play sent Hammelman sliding helplessly into the wall, underneath the black-and-gold padding, did she manage to gather herself and convert one of two. It cut the deficit to 39-38.
“I tend to get in my head a lot,” Hammelman admitted. “I couldn’t make anything to save my life. Coach told me it looked flat, so I started to put more arc on it. But I just could not get anything to fall for me.”
But the Blue Thunder weren’t yip-free, as they also missed two front ends in the final minute and went 6-for-14 in total.
They couldn’t stretch their lead to greater than four points over the final 17 minutes of the game, practically casting a spotlight on the free-throw line.
“We always tell the girls that every game comes down to layups and free throws,” Sterling coach Julie Schroeder said. “That’s even more true in a one-point game. Tonight that is what happened. We missed too many easy shots and way too many free throws.”