Editor's note: In this unprecedented, unexpected time with no games to watch, our staff of five reminisces about the best games they've covered during their time as News-Post sports reporters.
Lacking a GPS and overestimating my memory, I got lost trying to find a school I hadn’t visited in over 10 years.
That’s why I pulled into Poolesville High School’s parking lot right about tipoff time of the Class 2A West region girls basketball championship game between Middletown and the host Falcons on March 1, 2013.
Running through the parking lot in what I assume was a personal-best time, I entered Poolesville’s gym while “The Star-Spangled Banner” was playing. Unlike most others, I didn’t sit down after the song ended. There didn’t appear to be any open spaces in the packed bleachers.
I’d be watching the entire game leaning against a wall behind the basket, standing next to the late Brian Matthews, who was Linganore’s girls basketball coach at the time. This game was worth standing for.
The Knights appeared to have all the ingredients necessary to go far that season. A fine coaching staff headed by Bill Miskell, a take-charge scorer/tenacious defender in guard Caitlin McLister, a dangerous outside shooter in Jess Racz and sturdy post players in Carly Tolino, Brittney George and Tisa Mullins.
I didn’t mention the Knights’ point guard. That would be Connar Kelley, and she’s the reason I’m writing about this game.
Middletown took a 10-point lead into the fourth quarter. It soon vanished.
And with the shot clock winding down, Kelsey Carnahan grabbed an offensive rebound and hit a follow-up shot to give the Falcons a 48-46 lead with a little less than 7 seconds left.
The play triggered a burst of excitement in an already amped-up gym. A little too much excitement.
As Carnahan’s shot fell through the hoop, the shot clock went off. Apparently thinking they heard the final buzzer, some people stormed the court as the Knights frantically inbounded the ball and tried to bring it up the floor.
The Knights had little hope of succeeding. Guess they didn’t have a stormed-court press-break in their playbook.
Amid the pandemonium, the clock was stopped with 3 seconds left, and all premature revelers were shooed from the court.
After a lengthy discussion at the scorers table between officials and coaches, the clock was set to 6.2 seconds.
Kelley, whose main job was to dish off assists, brought the ball up the court and looked to pass to McLister. Nothing doing. Poolesville wisely had the star covered tightly.
With precious seconds ticking down, Kelley had no choice but to try — somehow — to produce season-saving points. She drove toward the hoop and, just before the game ended for real this time, drew a foul with six-tenths of a second left.
After a timeout, Kelley approached the free-throw line, facing one of the most pressure-packed situations imaginable.
Matthews and I were standing behind the basket, off to the left side, that Kelley would be targeting. Matthews said he didn’t think she’d make the shots. Pretty sure I agreed with him. Matthews wasn’t one to argue with.
Had I been more observant, I would’ve noticed that Kelley looked in the crowd at her father, Joe, before taking her shots. Thankfully, Kelley or Miskell — I can’t remember which one — told me about this nice detail so I could include it in my story.
After all the buildup I’ve provided, you’ve probably figured out what happened. Kelley sank both free throws, the game went into overtime and Middletown won, 57-56.
Racz’s clutch 3-pointer with 50 seconds left in overtime proved to be the difference, and I’m sure there were other overtime highlights. But nothing short of a slam dunk was going to prevent me from focusing my story on Kelley’s season-saving free throws near the end of regulation.
Even today, it reminds me of a scene in from the movie “Hoosiers.” Miskell felt the same way.
“I just used the old ‘Hoosiers’ line that Gene Hackman did,” Miskell said that night, recalling the timeout before Kelley’s shots. “I said, ‘After she makes the second shot’ ... And I happened to be right.”
After those free throws, the game was tied. And mostly because of them, this game — out of all the drama-filled ones I’ve been lucky enough to see over the years — is unmatched.