Do you believe in miracles?
Of course, that was a term coined by the great Al Michaels when the young bushy-haired broadcaster called the ending to the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey team’s improbable defeat of the mighty Soviet Union in Lake Placid, N.Y. The film “Miracle” would capture that moment with Disney magic two decades later and bring that famous term into the limelight.
While it wasn’t quite the stage of the Olympics last Friday night, it was just as improbable given the odds the Tehachapi Lady Warriors faced in the final moments against Bakersfield Christian with first place in the South Yosemite League on the line. Tehachapi trailed by nine points with 1:30 remaining, then by six with 44 seconds left. I’ve seen enough basketball games to know when it’s time to turn out the lights, it’s over.
However, there’s a reason why coaches preach “never quit” to their teams. There was in fact a reason that the hundreds in attendance and the continuously loud student section at Tehachapi High School never left their seats. It in fact wasn’t over. Just 43.4 seconds later Irey Sandholt rebounded a missed free throw and with the Lady Warriors down by three, she made the rebound layup and drew the foul call to put her at the free throw line with .6 remaining on the clock.
Ice water in her veins, cooler than the other side of the pillow, insert whatever cliché sports term you would like, but she nailed the free throw to send Tehachapi into overtime where they defeated BCHS 59-55 to take over sole possession of first place. All the while pulling off one of the most-miraculous finishes in basketball history, at least from my point of view.
I’ve seen nearly 1,000 basketball games in my career, most of them up close and personal from a scorer’s table or a broadcast position and I’ve witnessed a lot of crazy finishes, but something like last Friday night in Tehachapi simply doesn’t happen. A nine-point deficit with 90 seconds to play, a six-point deficit with less-than a minute to go? That is usually the beginning of the end.
Clutch plays from the likes of Emily Williams, Teagan Thurman and the aforementioned Sandholt weren’t unexpected, but weaving them together for that type of win can only be described as “miraculous.”
These are the things fictional movies are made of. It was like Rocky Balboa beating a Russian that outweighs him by 150 pounds. Like Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez smacking the cover off a baseball, like Daniel LaRusso using the crane of all things to win the All-Valley Karate Tournament, it’s even as far-fetched and improbable and Ray Kinsella playing baseball with a bunch of dead guys that walk out of his corn field. Except, this really happened as witnessed by the largest crowd of the season.
They were great, matter-of-fact, downright deafening at times. Some may have heeded my advice from last week and came to this game. A lesser-man would say “I told you so,” but I’d rather say thank you. Thank you for creating that playoff-like atmosphere, thank you for putting our girls over the top when it really mattered. Thanks to the Tehachapi High ASB, which organized a “blackout” giving $1 admission to any student wearing black that night. It was obviously well worth it, echoed by one student I overheard say “that’s the best dollar I’ve ever spent.”
Everyone got more than they bargained for Friday night, and Tehachapi got a taste of big-time basketball as a result. Let’s hope there are a few more celebrations to be had with this group before the final whistle blows.
After Friday, anything is possible.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed are his own.