I was pumped. But if you follow me in the Twitterverse (@CHeimerman_SVM), you already knew that.
Late Thursday night, when yet another cloud of holiday hoops tourney smoke cleared, I drew the assignment of covering the Oregon-St. Francis de Sales semifinal game Friday evening.
You might think I was just pumped to be covering my second game in more than a month. See, I love all aspects of my job, but there's nothing quite like covering games. So, I admit, just getting out played a factor. But, more so, I was pumped to see a team for which my hopes just keep getting higher.
For the preseason hoops tab, I picked the Hawks to be the third-best team in the area, right behind Rock Falls and Eastland. I had a hunch they'd take a monster step forward this season.
Then the box scores started getting reported, and it seemed like a different Hawk led the team in scoring every night. Of late, Caleb Mowry's taken the clear-cut role of go-to-guy, but I still knew this team was capable of going to many different wells, depending on the night.
On Friday, Mowry was a well that never went dry, at least when he was on the floor.
Foul trouble saw him miss most of the second period, but the Hawks recovered nicely from a 12-0 de Sales run and kept it a nine-point halftime deficit.
In the third, much the way they had most of the game up to that point, they continued to do so many things so stinking well. I had a hunch, given their athletes I'd seen in other sports (I never saw Oregon's hoops team last season), that the Hawks would be a very disciplined team because of their guard play.
Hunch proven. Just ask de Sales coach Kevin Wolfe, who gushed about the Hawks' ability to work the ball inside from the perimeter. But that's in the gamer. You're here for bonus content, right?
One of my hunches started to waver. Looking like the vastly more fundamentally sound team, I kept thinking Oregon would get over the hump. But de Sales kept hitting timely jumpers, and it was still a nine-point game after three. It seems every time I tweeted about Oregon's composure or execution, de Sales came up with a big play.
Then it happened. The Internet went out and, thus, a logjam of tweets started piling up in my drafts folder. Oregon kept executing, and Mowry entered full-fledged beast mode. You already read about the fourth period.
But what about the game within the game? Glad you asked. I was downright impressed that Oregon kept executing so well. Oftentimes, it's hardest to stick with things when you do things right but don't see the benefit. But the Hawks hung with 'em. And they did it without the guy Mowry calls their leader, Alex Cain.
(We'll give him a pass. He was raising cash for Ogle County Special Olympics in Florida. I'm a huge fan of Special Olympics, and you should be, too)
Anyway, they hung with it and got rewarded. Afterward, Holden White talked about perseverance. He'd had a bad night shooting, including missing two potential game-icing free throws. He hung with it and set up the game-winning bucket. He admitted, in the past, the Hawks might have gone away when they took a punch to the gut.
Not Friday. Maybe not this season, period. I had a hunch this team had some neat things going on. Thanks, fellas, for proving my intuition true.
One more hunch, before I let you go: I had a hunch that a change of scenery would make Jessie McKinley (you might know him as @UncleRae_2Saucy) a better ballplayer. But I had no idea he'd be running the point and be light years ahead of where he was last year in Dixon.
Read up about him this upcoming week. I'm working up a feature for Wednesday's section. I have a hunch you'll like it.