Miner coach reflects on the season just ended
Postseason basketball brings with it a certain sense of finality.
With the obvious exception of the state champion, at some point during the four weeks of the IHSAA State Tournament every team will lose its last game.
For some the end comes sooner than expected. Hopes and dreams of a lengthy postseason run culminating in a possible state championship are replaced by thoughts of wondering what might have been.
Such is the case for the Linton-Stockton Miners and coach Joey Hart.
Despite a valiant comeback effort the Miners lost to the South Knox Spartans 68-64 in triple overtime Tuesday night in the first round of Class 2A Sectional 47 at North Knox. And a team ranked seventh in Class 2A harboring lofty postseason aspirations is now on the sidelines.
“Obviously we were a team that could have made a run,” Hart said wistfully. “And we didn’t. So that makes it very tough.”
It’s even tougher for Hart because he truly enjoyed coaching this collection of young men. He described this team as “special” – great kids, great team chemistry, great character – and a very special group of seniors.
“I literally could coach this team forever,” Hart said.
Nowhere was the team’s character more evident than in Tuesday’s rise from the ashes to nearly complete what would have been an epic come-from-behind effort.
Trailing by 16 late in the third quarter, the Miners fought back to close the gap to nine with five minutes remaining.
“We were left for dead,” Hart recalled. “I think everybody had decided South Knox had won. But our kids just kept competing.”
Compete they did.
Silas Robbins tossed in a left-hander underneath to close out the third stanza. Kip Fougerousse bagged a pullup jumper and Noah Woodward drained a three to trim the deficit to nine.
The Spartans punched back, Brandon Fickling scoring inside and younger brother Justin converting a 3-point play to push the lead back to 14 with 3:35 to play.
Then the Miners ran off 15 unanswered to take the lead. And they only needed two minutes to do it – a two-minute drill if ever there was one.
Woodward drove in for three the old-fashioned way and Sammy Robbins made good on both ends of a one-and-bonus. Fougerousse cashed in on a four-point play, swishing a three and drawing a foul.
After Josh Pyne’s steal, Tucker Hayes drained a deep three to make it a two-point game, 48-46. Fougerousse chased down a loose ball and kicked it out to Woodward beyond the arc. The senior guard’s trifecta hit nothing but the bottom of the net.
And the Miners led 49-48 with 1:31 remaining in regulation.
“That was pretty amazing to be down 14 with three minutes to go and then have the lead with a minute left,” the Miner coach said. “You just don’t see that every day.”
Nick Johnson’s free throw with 56.7 seconds left tied the score and eventually sent the game to overtime.
The Miners still had momentum on their side in the first extra session. Hayes scorched the nets again from deep and Evan Slover knocked down a pair at the stripe to give Linton a five-point lead.
The Miners still led by three after two Brandon Fickling charity tosses and were working the ball patiently to finish off the Spartans.
“We would have liked to have closed it out there,” said Hart.
The coach thought about using one of his timeouts to draw up a play, but declined.
“I probably should have called timeout when we were up three,” he said. “We had timeouts and should have used one there.”
The ball went in to the post where Brandon Fickling came up with the steal. Fickling got it ahead to Johnson whose 3-point play with 38.7 seconds sent the game to a second overtime.
“We wanted to keep the ball out on the perimeter in the middle of the floor,” Hart explained. “We got the ball on the sideline which is never a good thing.
“If I had it to do over again I’d call time out. But that’s 20/20 hindsight.”
South Knox sealed the win at the free throw line in the third overtime session, sinking 8-of-10 as the Miners, playing from behind, were forced to foul.
Still, the effort put forth just to get back into the game after seemingly falling hopelessly behind was a testament to the team’s character.
“We competed the whole night,” Hart said. “We just didn’t play real well early and we obviously got in some serious foul trouble late.
“But it was definitely our character and perseverance to keep competing even when things weren’t going well that allowed us to get the lead back.”
Character and perseverance were just two of the qualities Hart admired in this team.
The players were driven and knew what they wanted to accomplish – even though it did not come to pass.
The coach said the kids really bought into the system. He appreciated their work ethic and coachability.
And perhaps as important, the players all got along.
“This team had very, very good chemistry,” Hart noted. “On the court and off the court they spent a lot of time together. We’ve never had a team do as many things off the court together as this one. That was really nice to see.”
He continued, “They’ve been as fun a group as we’ve had to work with. They made practices, games, the whole season a lot of fun.”
The coach credited “a very special group of seniors” for their part in bringing the team together.
“I felt like our seniors were very accepting of our younger guys,” Hart explained. “Teams don’t always have that.”
As the coach pointed out, the upperclassmen’s acceptance of the sophomore Fougerousse and freshman Lincoln Hale – the team’s leading scorers at 12.7 and 12.5 points per game respectively – allowed the team to be as good as it could be.
Hart spoke of his three seniors – Noah Woodward, Noah Clark and Jarrett Rose – individually.
Noah Woodward’s role grew every year of his varsity career.
The Miner mentor described Woodward as “a very, very competitive kid, a very hard-nosed kid.” Hart continued, “Woody gave us great minutes and great leadership. He plays extremely hard. He makes mistakes like they all do. But his mistakes are never from a lack of effort.”
Woodward finished strong in what turned out to be his swan song, scoring nine of his 15 points during the Miners’ fourth quarter stretch run.
In addition to being the team’s third-leading scorer the senior guard did multiple things for the Miners – handling the ball, defending, and rebounding very well for his size.
In looking ahead to next year Hart acknowledged, “We’re going to have to address his loss.”
Pyne, Devyn Robertson and Brady Smith are among the returning candidates to fill Woodward’s spot next season.
“It will be interesting,” Hart said. “Somebody’s going to have to step up.”
Clark and Rose are two players who Hart said “would play tons of minutes on most other teams.”
But on a deep squad such as Linton had this year sometimes there aren’t enough minutes to go around.
“Noah and Jarrett did a lot for our team by being good teammates, not whining and feeling sorry for themselves because they didn’t play as many minutes as they’d like,” Hart said.
“Those two guys were great teammates all year. And I think that’s one of the things that really did help our team chemistry.”
Hart mentioned Clark improved every year. He was just in a tough situation – as was Rose – playing behind Sammy and Silas Robbins.
But as Hart said, “They didn’t complain. They helped any way they could. And when their number was called they played as hard as they could.”
And one way Clark and Rose could help – and did – was on the practice court.
“There were times in practice our second unit gave our first unit all they wanted,” Hart reminded.
Rose in fact gave up a year of varsity eligibility to come to Linton. As a transfer from White River Valley the 6-4 redhead was only eligible for junior varsity competition his junior year.
“He came here because he wanted to be here,” Hart stated. “I hope every kid who comes through our program has a little Jarrett in them.
“You’re not going to find a better kid than Jarrett. We got total buy-in from him.”
Hart says it requires a competitive mindset to play at Linton, especially since the program has now established a winning tradition in recent years.
Despite first-round sectional exits the past two seasons Hart’s Miners have still posted six consecutive 20-plus win seasons.
As a result, Linton has become the team everyone wants to beat.
“It’s like I tell our guys,” Hart explained. “And I say the same thing every year – nobody’s going to feel sorry for us.
“It’s different playing here. It’s not easy. We’ve got a target on our back every game.”
The players are well aware it’s tougher knowing they’re expected to win despite every team on the schedule gunning for them. And Hart counts Jarrett Rose among those up to the task.
“It takes a special kid to play here now,” Hart said. “Jarrett wanted to do this. He accepted the challenge. And I think he’s glad he did.”
For the Linton Miners the 2017-18 season has ended – prematurely, some might say.
But tomorrow’s another day.
And with six of the top nine players from this year’s team returning – plus others waiting in the wings – the future looks promising.