Monday, January 23, 2006

Whitefish Bay vs. Homestead: A Night of Surprises

I’m not going to lie to you–Friday night I wanted to go to the Marquette vs. Notre Dame game that ended so tremendously. But for a variety of odd reasons, it just didn’t work out. So as I was leaving my office, I gave my reliable friend Kevin a call to see if he was catching a high school game that night. Turns out, he was taking in Whitefish Bay at Homestead, a matchup that led to overtime when it last occurred. It was one of the two most intriguing games in the area on Friday night. It all sounded good, but he noted that he had a warning.

(Side note–with the number of times that I’ve seen Whitefish Bay this year, one would think that I have some sort of special interest in the program. Not really–they’re just a good, fun team to watch, and the North Shore conference is deep enough that they seem to have an excellent match-up every week)

His warning? He had heard through the grapevine that the evening’s contest was to be part of a themed "throwback" night at Homestead, where the game was moved out of the brand new state-of-the-art fieldhouse (my favorite in the Milwaukee area, by the way), players were to wear old uniforms, and a general vibe of days gone by would be precipitated. His source? Why, his friend the official scorekeeper, who had a throwback outfit of epic proportions planned. Of course finally, Kevin noted, the allure of the game and the smaller size of the gym meant that it could be pretty crowded, and I would have to get there early.

I was battling a pretty bad cold on Friday night, and for the first time in weeks, a snowstorm was beating down on southeastern Wisconsin, so I had certainly thought about just packing it in and staying home for the night. But when I heard the words "Throwback Night," I knew that I was going to have to grab a handful of tissues, try to overdose on Vitamin C, and make the sloppy half-hour drive to Homestead for the game.

As I arrived at Homestead, the huge parking lot was, indeed, parked full of cars. I had been running late, and as a result, it looked like I would be packed in pretty tight in the side gym. To my surprise, though, as it turned out, most of the cars were there for a wrestling meet in the fieldhouse. The auxiliary gym was somewhat sparsely populated, and seemingly only in use due to the meet. And throwback night? There was no indication that anything of the sort was going on. Well, unless you count the lone scorekeeper randomly wearing a wig and awesome fake mustache, in true Beastie Boys’ "Sabotage" video style.

Luckily the game, unlike the throwback night concept, would not disappoint:

1) Though the game was generally less well-attended than I had expected, each school had a critical mass to form a decent student section. I had high hopes for Homestead, as about ten young men had painted their entire torsos red. When you get that many crazy fans in one place, you have to expect good things. While the attire was definitely the most impressive display of fan dedication this year (particularly for the one guy who wore khakis that were looking pretty red by the third quarter from general rub-off), the decibel level was lower than I expected. Still, if I’m Whitefish Bay, I’m going to be slightly intimidated if I’m inbounding a ball in front of a shirtless dude with a red torso.

2) Also in attendance at the game was UWM coach Rob Jeter, presumably there to watch Whitefish Bay’s Matt Schneck. I was sort of thrown by Jeter’s presence at first, wondering who he could possibly be recruiting at this game. Then I remembered that he wasn’t a Wisconsin assistant anymore. Call it a severe momentary brain lapse on my part, but I’ve seen Jeter at so many high school games over the last few years that I just sort of reverted in my mind to last year.

3) Speaking of Matt Schneck, he looks a little bit better every time I see him. On Friday, he was finishing strong around the hoop, and even got the opportunity to knock down a bunch of foul shots. His release looks a little weird, but the ball seemed to be going through the hoop at a pretty consistent rate, so who am I to complain about how it looked?

4) The first half went all Whitefish Bay’s way, as the Blue Dukes went into the game with an 18 point lead. Perhaps most impressive about this was that they had scored 28 on a Homestead defense that I thought was fairly solid.

5) I might have just been imagining things, but on one end of the gym it appeared that there was a light that kept getting more intense and less intense at random intervals, as if there was some sort of a bulb problem. I guess it didn’t end up being an issue for either team, though I doubt it would have been fun to shoot into. Either way, Homestead was shooting at it in the second half, so even if it was an issue, at least the home team bore the brunt of the problem.

6) In a rare mistake, the scoreboard operator failed to stop the clock after a foul with just upwards of two minutes left in the game. The error was quickly pointed out by a heady Homestead player, and the refs went over to the scorer’s table to sort out the problem. The clock, stopped after the error at 2:15, was re-set to 2:20, which didn’t exactly make the Whitefish Bay faithful happy (they were looking for less time to be put back), and conformed exactly with what the Homestead students were chanting. To be honest, I thought 2:22 would have actually been more accurate, but there was no way to really check on this, so the refs did as good a job as possible sorting out the situation fairly.

7) Oh yeah, that student chant during the stoppage of play to re-set the clock? The chant was "2-2-0! 2-2-0!" Thus marks the first time I’ve ever heard this chant at a suburban Milwaukee high school game and it’s not been offensive. (If you’re not from Milwaukee, you probably have no idea what I’m talking about, but rest assured that the 220 chant has never been as innocent as it was at this game).

8) Though Whitefish Bay owned the first half, Homestead decided to take over the second, scratching and clawing its way back into the game. A full-court press and lots of resulting turnovers got them back into the game, leaving the contest in doubt until the final minutes, when Whitefish Bay settled down and dug in for the win. It would be a good weekend for comebacks, as I would see a mini-comeback in the game I would see the next night, as well.

So Whitefish Bay hung on for the win and remained undefeated. And I returned home on significantly improved roads, as my original drive out to Homestead had occurred during the 4-hour window this winter when driving conditions were actually bad in Wisconsin. It was a shame that things had improved so much, too, since I had the second half of the Marquette game on the radio to listen to as long as I wanted. Eventually, though, I finished up listening to the game at home and doped myself up with cold medicine. After all, I had to knock the illness out of myself if I was to catch a game the next day.


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