By RON MALY
With one second--yes, just one tiny second--remaining in overtime, Austin Hinkle didn't exactly follow instructions.
No problem at all.
Hinkle, displaying ice water in his veins, drilled two free throws that wound up sending his Valley basketball team to the state class 4-A state tournament tonight, suddenly bringing hope to his coaches, teammates and Tiger fans everywhere that perhaps their high school can win a second consecutive championship.
The Tigers from West Des Moines won their ninth straight game and pushed their record to 19-4 with a 45-43 victory over Hoover of Des Moines in a gripping substate finale that tested the heart strength and function of everyone who played, coached, officiated and watched at the Ankeny Centennial High School gym.
So it's on to the state tournament again next week at Wells Fargo Arena in downtown Des Moines for coach B.J. Windhorst and his Tigers, who won the 4-A championship last season.
I've been saying and writing that Valley is a team nobody wants to play at this stage of the season, and I'm even more firm in that belief now.
Think about Hoover.
Hoover clobbered Valley, 45-30, during the regular season, but that was before 6-foot 6-inch senior Quinton Curry joined the Tigers after missing most of the season with a knee injury.
Valley is a much better team with Curry in the lineup, and it definitely showed tonight.
Getting back to Hinkle, the 6-foot senior guard was fouled in the final second of the 4-minute overtime.
"I was pushed out of bounds [following a missed shot by Hoover]," he told me.
I mentioned to Hinkle that I was a bit surprised one of the three members of the officiating crew had the balls to call a foul with one second remaining in the overtime session.
He seemed to agree.
What Hinkle and I were referring to was the feeling among basketball coaches, players and fans that officials are hesitant to call fouls in the final minute [certainly in the final second] of any game because there is some sort of unwritten rule that people don't want a foul to decide a game.
At first, the scoreboard clock showed that there was just a half-second left in the overtime when Hinkle was fouled.
Another half-second was quickly added, meaning a full second remained.
Miracles could still happen.
Hinkle made his first free throw, giving Valley a 44-43 lead.
He was supposed to purposely miss the second free throw, but he also needed to bounce the ball off the rim to put the ball in play.
Hinkle hit the rim with his second shot all right, but banked his second shot off the backboard and through the basket, giving Hoover one more frantic shot that theoretically could have decided the game, but was nowhere near the basket.
No miracles for Hoover.
No one--no Valley coach, no Valley player, no Valley student manager, no Valley fan--cared that Hinkle didn't quite do what he was supposed to do.
The Tigers were ready to celebrate--and celebrate they did while posing for pictures after the game, one of which is attached to this essay.
It was a tremendously fun night for all Tigers.
Not so much fun for Hoover.