A Short Bench

Sunday’s game in the Ann Arbor Men’s League was special. It was the final game of the regular season. With a win, we would move into a three-way tie for first place, at 7-3. We were facing a youthful, full-court-pressing team from Washtenaw CC (their club team, if you will, although they have a deep bench, a coach, and, for Sunday night’s game, cheerleaders). I haven’t played in a game with cheerleaders since 1995; they even twiddled their fingers in the air when we shot free throws.

Our group has been up and down this year. We started 5-0, which was good enough to lock up a sponsor for the state tournament later this month in Midland (why it is in Midland, I have no idea, since all eight teams are from SE Michigan). We started the season with ten guys, more than most carry. One–the only guy older than me on our team or in the division–decided to quit for reasons I won’t bother going into. That left us with nine. Several of our early games were 40+ point routes (against teams in a division below ours). One was a triple OT win against a team that later beat us by 40–our poorest outing of the season. The other two losses came to a close rival; we lost one of those by four points, the other by five. So: although we finished in a first-place tie, we wouldn’t win any of the tie-breakers based on head to head matchups or point differential. So it goes. I don’t know how they’ll settle who gets the trophy.

Why was Sunday’s game special? Well, aside from the eventfulness of playing against a “team” of 18 and 19 year-olds (i.e., babies who were born the same year I graduated high school), instead of having our usual nine players, we had five. Four didn’t show up because of Winter Break, injuries, absent-mindedness, I don’t know. We hadn’t been short-handed like this before. I am too old to be nervous about basketball games in a recreational league. But: it was going to be difficult to hold off a team of fit, pressing youth for four quarters.

The game started off smoothly enough. We were down 31-29 at halftime. Nobody was in foul trouble. I had just one foul in the first half, and fouls are as you might expect the main concern when playing without a single sub. A couple of bad plays (or bad calls or both) can leave you in the unwinnable mismatch, four vs. five. Next, something terrible: in the first 1:24 of the third quarter, I was called for three fouls: two blocking fouls, which might have been charges were I willing to fall onto my back (I’m not), and an official’s hallucination. The new problem: four fouls with 6:36 remaining in the third quarter.

We adjusted (put me on the right frontcourt corner of a 2-3 zone). And–this is why it was special, mostly–I managed to finish the game without fouling out. Also, we won by 12 or 13 points, entirely because our team defense was excellent. We held them to something like 20 points for the second half.

I’m blogging it because I’m pretty sure this is the last league game I’ll ever play in. I will travel to Midland in late March for the state tournament. After that, the only basketball I play will be lunchtime pickup games with EMU’s regulars twice each week. I still enjoy playing for fitness, recreation, and communion, but I like being able to skip a day when I want to, I like being able to go home when I’m done for the day, and I like being able to walk one building over from my office to play among people I know (and who are not absurdly competitive).