LJWorld.com weblogs The Dividing Line
It's now or never for the Free State High boys basketball team
It’s 9 a.m. on Feb. 17, do you know where your Free State High boys basketball victories are? The general consensus of opinion says one of those pesky, hard-to-corral critters could show up at the Free State High gym tonight when the Firebirds play host to SM North for the final home game of the 2008-09 season. Free State, which opened the season with a victory and has lost 15 straight since, has had tonight’s game circled on its schedule for quite some time. With good reason. As early on as mid-January, the Firebirds quietly began pointing to this one as their next chance for a victory. Sure there were a few along the way that Free State could win. But haven’t so many games during this painstaking stretch been could-win contests? Typically, games worthy of the big red circle on the calendar are reserved for revenge, marquee match-ups or one-of-a-kind showdowns. Tonight’s meeting between 1-15 Free State and 2-14 Shawnee Mission North drew the circle for a different reason — it might be the Firebirds’ best chance at their next victory. Chasing that elusive title all season has worn down this team. They’ve played hard most of the way but have mailed it in on occasion and have struggled to believe — especially lately — that victory could be around the next corner. A win tonight would not erase the pain of the 15-game losing streak. But it would give this incredibly young team something it deserves at a crucial point in the season: hope. In many ways, it’s something they already should have. Consider this: During the Firebirds’ 15-game skid, they’ve lost six games by eight points or less, including taking two of the league’s most talented teams to the wire in a 40-37 loss to SM South and a 52-46 loss to Leavenworth last week. Their toughest losses came at the most critical times. A 74-64 overtime defeat to Lawrence High on Dec. 20 sent the Firebirds into winter break on a four-game losing streak. What’s worse, Free State was less than 30 seconds away from winning that one, controling the pace most of the way and executing a near-perfect gameplan. A win there puts the Firebirds at 2-3 entering the break and affords them the luxury of feeling good about beating their rival for nearly four weeks. It could have changed the entire season. Out of the break, the Firebirds had back-to-back close calls. The first came at Blue Valley West, a game the Firebirds led by eight late in the third only to lose, 53-45. The second came three nights later when Free State shot 4-of-19 from the free throw line in a 49-46 loss at Olathe North. Win either of those games, and perhaps the rest of the season goes a little smoother. Then again, perhaps not. This team is young, has shown its inexperience at times, has struggled to find a leader and has been drubbed as often as it has been in close ballgames. But not for lack of effort. If the basketball gods have any compassion, the Firebirds will win tonight. Not because it’s the final home game for six Free State seniors, but because that second victory is long overdue.