28 Chapters
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18 Of Jeeps and Giants

Mike Roos Quarry Books ePub

Now 8–0 in conference play and 12–3 overall, the Spuds found themselves in control of the race to the conference championship, with only four weeks and five games remaining before the Sectional. Only Chrisney remained as a conference opponent, but the Wildcats would have to wait. As a group, the final five games would present a variety of challenges, and Pete Gill regarded them most importantly as excellent tune-ups to prepare for the postseason. The first of the four weeks appeared the most difficult, with two road games: a Wednesday night trip to Dubois followed by a Saturday jaunt to the big city of Evansville to play the state’s top-ranked team, Rex Mundi.

Dubois was the only opponent Ireland regularly scheduled for two games per season. Since the two teams had already split two games between them, both regarded this as the rubber match to settle the score between arch-rivals, provided, of course, they didn’t meet again in the Sectional, which was always a possibility. Ireland had looked very impressive in the first meeting and very unimpressive in the second at the Holiday Tourney, the game that had, in essence, begun the ongoing tug-of-war between Pete Gill and Joe Lents. Although Joe’s productivity since December had fallen dramatically, Pete had chosen a version of trench warfare in dealing with his recalcitrant star. There was no actual truce between them, although there were few shots being fired on either side. Still, anyone who thought things had quieted between them would have been deluded. For Joe especially, another game with Dubois only served to reopen the wounds. As a result, his frame of mind for the game was considerably less than optimal.

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14 The Buy In

Mike Roos Quarry Books ePub

Everyone was aware that Ireland’s second opponent, the Holland Dutchmen, would be a far sterner test for the Spuds and Pete Gill than Spurgeon had been. In fact, they were likely to be one of the most difficult opponents on the entire schedule. Holland had several returning starters, led by big men Butch Fenneman and Bill Buse, and many experts in the area favored them not only to replace Ireland atop the Patoka Valley Conference but to be a genuine small-school threat to capture the Huntingburg Sectional title. Thus, Pete Gill began ruminating on strategy against them almost as soon as he returned home from Spurgeon.

It helped that his support among students and townsfolk was now growing, even if only incrementally, in the wake of the victory over Spurgeon. The hitchhiking stunt had not only motivated his team but had also won him a few new fans, who found him at least to be more entertaining than his predecessor. Whether he was truly a better basketball coach would remain an open question.

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21 Walk Like a Man

Mike Roos Quarry Books ePub

Pete Gill was more on edge about Winslow than he let on to anyone, except perhaps Roy Allen. He and Roy had scouted the Eskimos in a loss against Huntingburg, 61–54, one of only two victories for the Hunters all year. But Winslow was a young team, with no seniors and a squad made up almost entirely of volatile juniors, featuring good speed and streaky shooting skills. If the shots started to fall, they gained confidence with each basket. In Pete’s nightmares, the Eskimos would get hot, the Spuds would go cold, and his dream season would be shot dead in a humiliating flash the very first game of the tournament.

Adding to his worries, on Thursday the Spuds received unexpected and unwelcome word that Allen Voelkel would be unavailable for the Sectional. For several days he had been complaining of severe back pain and fatigue. Perplexed and frustrated, he and his father went first to a chiropractor, who told them the problem was not Allen’s back. Then a Jasper MD examined him and found albumen in his urine. Not a good sign.

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22 The Prophet’s Vision

Mike Roos Quarry Books ePub

While the Ireland players recouped what strength they could on the south side of town, young Jim Jones roomed his players northward at a Jasper motel. While many witnesses of the afternoon games had been amazed at the efficiency with which the Blackhawks had dispensed with Jasper and therefore regarded them as clear-cut favorites over the smaller Spuds, Jones was by no means as certain he had the better team. When a Jasper sportswriter asked him before the Sectional about his team’s up-and-down season, he had replied, “Up and down? Heck, it was just down, in my view. We aren’t very good.” Jones was learning the ropes—that is, how to lower expectations for his team and sucker opponents into taking them lightly.

The sportswriter caught up with him between games to see if his thoughts had changed. “My thoughts,” Jones replied, “are that Ireland outmans us at every position.”

“Come now, Jim. They’ve got no one who can stop Ziegler.”

“They know how to play defense, and Small and Lents more than make up for any lack of size they have. I doubt our young guys can stay with them.”

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12 Soap and Towel and Wings of Fire

Mike Roos Quarry Books ePub

A week before the team’s season opener against Spurgeon, Pete had Jim Roos announce to students, parents, and public that there would be what he termed a “Soap and Towel” game, an exhibition scrimmage among Ireland players, Tuesday night prior to the Spurgeon game.

“But, Coach, this is nuts,” Dave Small pointed out. “We haven’t even scrimmaged full-court yet.”

“When I want your opinion, Small, I’ll ask for it.”

Dave said no more, but he could not imagine how the drills they had been doing in practice would translate into game conditions. His worst fear was an embarrassment in front of the whole town, but Pete would not be dissuaded. Pete wanted a show, a demonstration before all his detractors of what he was building. He overestimated, however, the readiness of his team.

Such an exhibition was a first for the town of Ireland. It was Pete’s idea that anyone could gain admission with a bar of soap or a towel, which he intended to stockpile for the team’s locker room supplies. Although hardly anyone expected to see high-quality basketball at the practice game, there was a great deal of curiosity about the team as tales of Pete’s bizarre and brutal practices had spread among townsfolk and even beyond. When Jack Brandt, sports director for Jasper radio station WITZ, heard about the game, he made plans to be there. Jasper athletic director Cabby O’Neill, on the other hand, decided it would be best not to attend, lest he be confused for an Ireland supporter, but he asked Jack to provide him with a full report on “this fellow Gill.”

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