Corey Costelloe mug

Corey Costelloe

There’s some debate as to who actually first used the term “defense wins championships.” Of course, ask any “expert” on our pal the internet and you’ll receive a variety of “expert” opinions. This famous quote was actually a two-parter, which some associate with the legendary Bear Bryant of Alabama fame. In its entirety it read, “Offense sells tickets, defense wins championships.”

So, there you have it, mystery solved. However, in the era in which we value the high-scoring, entertainment-first style of any sport, offense has an increased value. However, it still rings true — when crunch time comes, the defense always seems to be in the best position to make the difference between winning a few games and winning the big one. It’s some sort of cosmic order we haven’t been able throw off its axis quite yet.

After the first week of basketball league play for the Tehachapi Warriors squads, that defensive tone made all the difference in the games they either won or lost in a split week. For example, the Lady Warriors didn’t shoot particularly well in their win over Golden Valley, and they weren’t tough shots either, it was just one of those games where even the easy ones under the hoop weren’t rolling their way. The answer? Defense, of course.

Tehachapi forced 20 steals and threw Golden Valley for a loop on offense as they didn’t have an answer for the press-trap that kept coming their way. The defense set the tone. In basketball that’s unique because it’s the same players who only moments before missed a shot, now coming back and being the only thing stopping their opponent from scoring. Pride and frustration sometimes play a big part in that as well. Even the junior varsity Lady Braves game, which went into two overtimes on Friday night, was won on a pair of defensive plays; sometimes it’s a chain reaction.

Same story for the boy’s varsity squad. On Wednesday they struggled to defend a loaded Bakersfield Christian team. It was a tough task, but things just weren’t aligning right for Tehachapi in that one, but they bounced back and through defensive efforts they were able to hold Golden Valley to just 40 points in their 63-40 win at Golden Valley on Friday night. When you can hold the home team to under 50 on their home court, your defense is having a night.

In the extremely-tough South Yosemite League, the defense for both teams has to be the equalizer. Without the offensive firepower that many of the other teams possess, it takes the bold-faced determination on defense to make that difference and cover the gap.

I’ve been around some great defensive teams in a variety of sports and they’ve been winners. The best of them all actually valued their defense to the point where the bench got more excited about forcing a turnover or blocking a shot than scoring a basket. In baseball I’ve witnessed infields that were so strong defensively that pitchers were completely at ease pitching to contact and allowing their defense to make the plays. Most pitchers would rather just miss every bat they have to face, but when you know the guys behind you have the ability to make plays, the whole mentality changes.

Even as some explosive offensive teams advance through the NFL playoffs, I believe in the end it’ll take a few defensive difference-makers to determine who lifts the Lombardi Trophy.

Defense is ugly, tough and it isn’t glamorous. There’s no easy way to play it; you have to be willing to suffer enough to reap the rewards at the end. Now that I say it, defense sounds a lot like life.

Maybe with that metaphor I’ll cash in and become an “expert” on our pal the internet as well. What are the chances of that? On second thought, I’ll keep my day job.

Corey Costelloe has covered NCAA, professional and local sports for more than 20 years as a reporter and broadcaster. A THS graduate, he now resides in Tehachapi. He can be reached at corey.costelloe@gmail.com. The opinions expressed are his own.