Column: Is BHS coach cursed?
Is it possible for a basketball coach to be cursed? Or perhaps jinxed?
Maybe it's just bad luck or unfortunate circumstances? It can't be a curse on the town, because several Baldwin High School teams have been successful on the state level.
Could it be a curse on BHS basketball though? It's not as dramatic as the Chicago Cubs' "goat curse," but it's been eight years since a BHS basketball team has been to Salina. You have to go back to my senior year to find the last time the Bulldogs went to state. The boys' team placed third that year, which was a great accomplishment at the time.
The future looked promising for BHS basketball. In 2001, two of the best players in the state, Heath Knight and Ben Cosman, were seniors coming back from the third place a year before. Yet, the Bulldogs were beaten in sub-state.
That was the last boys' team to have a legitimate shot at state until two years ago. The 2006 team had some talent and speed, but lacked the defensive intensity to be successful in the postseason. That season ended at home in the sub-state semifinals.
During that five-year gap, the BHS girls had a couple of teams that were destined for Salina - or so we thought. In 2003, the Bulldogs were loaded with experience, size and talent. They found themselves in the championship game of sub-state playing the host team Spring Hill. Yep, this was the beginning of the Spring Hill curse on a BHS coach.
Baldwin led by five points late in the fourth quarter. After a pair of free throws by the Broncos, a BHS senior was fouled with under a minute remaining in the game. Normally a good foul shooter, the player missed both shots. The Broncos ended up tying the game on a three-pointer in regulation, before winning in overtime.
It was a knockout that Baldwin fans, including myself, wasn't expecting. Fast forward to one year later and the Broncos again had the Bulldogs' number.
The 2004 class entered high school with promise of being a state championship team. They dominated the junior high level and won most of its freshman and junior varsity games with some players playing up on varsity. I should know this class fairly well. I watched them play every year, since I had twin sisters playing.
Then it came time for the Bulldogs to be the seniors and leaders of the team. They had a great regular session and looked poised for a three-game sweep en route to Salina. Only problem, the Broncos again stood in the way.
During the sub-state semifinal round, Baldwin managed to play one of its worst games all season. Possibly the best player on the team had the worst game of her career that night. She scored two points in the loss. It was hard to realize how a team with such promise could end its season so soon.
That's when the idea of a coach being cursed first ran through my mind. Could it possibly be true? I know several NCAA coaches have gone decades without winning a championship, despite many great teams. So maybe there is hope yet for our Bulldog coach.
Then you jump forward a couple of years to 2007. The boys' team now has the former girls' coach that has suffered a few tough postseason losses.
Despite being the underdog against a talented Piper team, the Baldwin boys' team nearly won the sub-state title game. Instead they lost 41-39.
Now its Friday night in cursed Spring Hill and it's the sub-state semifinals. The BHS boys are playing Bishop Ward, a team that they were more talented than and a team that they were taller than.
If the Bulldogs play like they should and did in the previous game, they will move on to the championship game Saturday. Neither team controlled the game, but Baldwin always seemed to be leading. It wasn't a great game for Baldwin but it still seemed like the Bulldogs were going to win.
During the final minute BHS turned a four-point deficit into a one-point lead. Senior Drew Berg hit a jumper to take the lead with 3.1 seconds left in the contest. The shot was clutch, which represented Berg's role on the team all season. He's been there when they needed a big shot or free throws. He was going to be the hero again.
Then Bishop Ward threw a pass 60 feet into the hands of its star player. He turns, throws up a three-pointer that bounces off the rim as time expires. The ball falls straight back down through the net. It was a highlight of an old NCAA Tournament reel.
The ironic thing is, my dad yells to me, just as the shot went up, 'it's just like Laettner,' referring to Duke's 1992 play where Christian Laettner caught a similar pass, made a move and shot a 15-foot jumper over a defender to beat Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament Regional Final.
Friday's shot was just like it, except about five feet deeper on the court. As much as I despise Duke and Laettner, Bishop Ward's shot was amazing. I just wish the Bulldogs weren't the opponents.
Once again BHS was upset in sub-state when it looked like the Bulldogs might make it to Salina. Is the Bulldogs' coach cursed?
That question was even asked to me by coach Eric Toot. After talking about the game Monday afternoon, he looked at me and asked if he is jinxed. I honestly told him that he might be jinxed, because that same thought occurred to me Friday night after the game. I hated to say it, because I hope he's not cursed.
I've known Toot since he started teaching at Baldwin. He was my coach for my three years of basketball. Then I was his manager for the next three years of high school. My younger sisters played for him, so I've known him well for more than decade now.
I was happy to see him come back to BHS as the boys' coach last year. He is two-for-two in home tournament titles and he's won 34 games in two seasons. He's been successful in the regular season, but can't get past that sub-state hurdle.
Jokingly, he said he wouldn't coach during sub-state next year. He will just let his assistants do the coaching and he will stay home, hoping to keep the curse away from the court. That did bring a smile and laugh to a sad conversation.
Well, I don't think Toot is cursed : yet. At least I hope not. I'm sure his time is coming, because as long as there are sports, you can always say maybe next year.