Thursday, March 16, 2006

Fielder’s Choice
By Barry Burleson

Boo to stall-ball

It was Mississippi high school basketball’s biggest stage.

It was supposed to be the state’s best high school basketball show on display.

The high-flying Holly Springs High School Hawks were in “The Big House” again, going for a third straight Class 3A state championship under the leadership of coach Naylond Hayes.

But Yazoo County and its head coach, Archie Carlyle, a former teammate of Hayes’ at Tougaloo College, clipped the Hawks’ wings.

They played stall-ball, even though they trailed most of the game.

Shockingly, the final score after five quarters (one overtime period) was 24-22.

More than half of the estimated 6,000 fans on hand booed the bulk of the game. And the critics weren’t just Holly High boosters, even though they tripled the number of Yazoo County faithful.

This was not what the bulk of the basketball fans came to see – many driving long distances and spending lots of money for gas, food and tickets. They came to see the best high school basketball team in the State of Mississippi, the Hawks.

Coach Carlyle didn’t care. He stuck with his game plan. I was frustrated, basically mad, just like most everyone else. But he coached within the rules. There’s no shot clock in high school basketball.

“We knew we couldn’t run with them,” he told reporters afterwards. “We were trying to shorten the game. We knew we couldn’t play 32 minutes with them, but we had a chance if we could play them for eight or nine minutes. We just wanted to get to the fourth quarter with a chance.”

His good friend Hayes was gracious in defeat and agreed with Carlyle’s assessment.

“I think he knew he couldn’t run with us,” said Hayes, who played college ball with Carlyle 44 years ago. “His strategy was great.

“No doubt it hurt our focus. We’ve been playing up-tempo. That’s the only way he could beat us.”

Hayes, after talking with reporters at game’s end, then had to face the toughest part of his job. He had to walk into the locker room and talk to his Hawks, upset and in tears.

“Men, that’s life,” he said. “I just don’t think it was meant to be.

“You will have setbacks in life. The challenge is how you handle them.

“There’s no reason to hold your heads down – no reason at all.

“Get dressed, and let’s go eat some steaks.”

Consider this - the past three seasons the Hawks are 98-7 with two gold balls. In the past five seasons under Hayes, they’re 140-28. Holly High is a basketball dynasty.

Holding the ball is pretty common for Carlyle, who won his sixth state championship as a coach. His Benton team did it in 1985 in a 34-29 win over Ashland for the state Class 2A crown.

The 46 points in Saturday’s game were the fewest in a boys state championship contest since the Mississippi High School Activities Association went to five classes in 1984-85. The Hawks were denied the opportunity of becoming the first MHSAA boys team to three-peat since Durant did it in Class 1A from 1993-95.

It’s one of those games you just can’t get out of your mind and your conversation with others. I’ve replayed it in my head time and time again. I couldn’t sleep Saturday night. I never want to see a game like it again – ever. To MHSAA leaders, please consider a shot clock.

“Was that really the score?” I was asked several times by those who did not get to attend the game or see it on television.

But like Coach Hayes told his disappointed yet classy Hawks, “The sun will still come up tomorrow. This is just a ball game.”

The best team did not win the gold ball Saturday. And that’s a lesson not just in basketball, but more importantly a lesson in life.

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