Two misses should not a memory make
It's too bad, really, that only one memory will likely last from Saturday night's Milledgeville vs. Polo boys basketball game.
It won't be Milledgeville's 2-for-20 shooting from 3-point range, or Polo's 42-23 rebounding advantage, or even the runs of 16-5 (Milledgeville in the first quarter), 9-0 (Polo to start the third quarter) or 10-0 (Milledgeville to end the third).
No, the lasting image that will stick in the minds of the players, coaches and gym full of fans from the latest installment of this longstanding rivalry will be of AJ Dollmeyer … and not of his stat-sheet-stuffing double-double of 17 points and 16 rebounds.
It will be the 6-foot-7 senior squatting down at the free-throw line, head in his hands, in emotional agony, after missing two free throws with the clock reading :00.0 that would have erased the Missiles' 46-45 lead and given Dollmeyer's Marcos a one-point victory.
And that is really, truly a crying shame.
Because here's what a lot of people maybe didn't see:
• Dollmeyer's teammates and coaches – in particular, assistant Matt Scholl, who himself missed two free throws at the end of a game that would have beaten Milledgeville when he was a Polo player – consoling the biggest guy on the court.
• The Milledgeville players' pats on Dollmeyer's shoulder as he went through the handshake line, less celebrating the win than respectfully taking the victory and showing compassion for a fellow player put in a tough spot.
• The Polo fans sharing hugs with the big fella after Polo's brief trip to the locker room, or the Milledgeville fans talking amongst themselves that they felt bad for the guy who failed to come through in the end and beat their team.
• And, most especially, the composure, poise and maturity Dollmeyer showed as he stopped to answer the standard – and maybe rather mundane – questions from this newspaper reporter, whose job it was to make him rehash those painful moments still fresh as an open wound in order to write this column.
"It sucks … it just sucks," Dollmeyer said, shaking his head, his thoughts far away in time. "We had it right there, right where we wanted it, and I blew it."
Let's just put a stop to that noise right now, because that's just not being fair to himself. There's no way Dollmeyer should feel like he cost his team the game. In fact, the Marcos wouldn't have even been close to that situation if not for his hard work on the offensive glass, most of which turned into points on his putbacks.
"You can pick anything from that game and say it cost us," Polo coach Matt Messer said, "even the most harmless turnover in the first quarter that cost us a possession. He and the rest of the guys had worked so hard to get to that point, and unfortunately, that's what it came down to at the very end.
"But we win as a team and lose as a team, and there's no way AJ should think this is all on him."
It had to be a lonely feeling, standing at the free-throw line of an empty lane with no time on the clock, all of your teammates and opposing players standing back near halfcourt, out of sight. Even Messer couldn't bring himself to stand in Dollmeyer's peripheral vision, instead backing up as far as he could and still stay in the coaches box on the sideline to his star center's right.
Then, with a couple of bounces off the left side of the rim, both free throws popped up and fell away from the cylinder, closing out Polo's Senior Night on a sour note.
"It's just really a tough way to win," Milledgeville senior Caleb Skoog said. "I definitely wouldn't want to be in that position. I mean, I'm not complaining, because we won … but you still feel bad for the other guy."
There's the respect that both coaches talked about afterward, the respect they have for their counterparts and the programs they've built just 11.8 miles apart.
The ups and downs Messer and Brian Rahn have seen through the years, the proximity of their schools meaning a closeness between the players who grow up together, the "friendly" adverb that both of them put before "rivalry" in this longtime feud.
In the end, one team won and the other lost, which happens at every game everywhere. But the way this one happened, it may have brought two already close towns, schools and teams even closer together.
"Your heart goes out to AJ, it really does," Rahn said. "He played great all game, he's been a great player for them for the last 3 years, and he gave it his all on his Senior Night … and that's what ends up happening.
"You really feel for him, you feel his hurt a little bit, and I think that's what makes this such a great, respectful, friendly rivalry."