INDIANAPOLIS – It’s counterintuitive to think the pressure on Homestead High School’s girls basketball team is less for the Class 4A state championship game than it was for the regional or semistate.
It’s also true.
When you’re expected to make a state-championship run, the pressure to get to that final game can be nearly overwhelming. Winning the regional (in a hectic finish over Carmel) and the semistate (in a romp over Northridge) both produced as much relief as thrill.
“We’re here now,” Homestead coach Rod Parker said. “Now we just have to go play. I hope we go out relaxed, go all out for 32 minutes, have fun and do what we do. Hopefully, that’s enough.”
To top it off, the Spartans don’t have the pressure of being “the story” of the Class 4A championship game.
Outside of Fort Wayne, "the story" is the presence of Indianapolis Pike, a team that was banned from tournament play last season after a regular-season brawl erupted against Ben Davis.
Pike upset No. 1 North Central in overtime in the regional, avenging two of their three regular-season losses. Beating Columbus North in the semistate puts the Red Devils in position to stage the ultimate return from disgrace to glory.
Homestead (27-2) plays Pike (24-3) for the state title at 8:15 p.m. Saturday in Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis.
“When we first got in the locker room in the summer after they found out I was coming back to be the coach, we said, ‘This is going to be different,’ ” Pike coach Bob Anglea said. “(Guards) LaRae Rascoe, Angel Baker, at the parents meeting, we said, ‘This is not who we are. This is what we’re going to be. The whole program is going to be something different.”
Anglea coached Pike from 2011 to 2015, then left to devote more time to his career. He works for Bangs Laboratories as director of quality and regulatory affairs. He was not coaching or at the game when the fight happened, but he heard about it immediately from a former coaching colleague.
“Heartbroken” is the word Anglea uses to describe how he felt watching video of the fight.
More than a year later, the tenor of the program couldn’t be more different. Pike is on a 14-game winning streak. It beat then-No. 2 Carmel on Jan. 20, a point where Anglea said he felt his team could make a state-title run.
The Red Devils are led by Baker, a 5-foot-8 junior guard who averages 19.4 points per game, shoots 47 percent from three-point range and leads the team in assists. Anglea compares her to Allen Iverson in being small but capable of scoring at any time and exerting her influence on the game.
Anglea points out that Pike’s shooting shirts say, ‘Finish Strong,” and he says the phrase applies not only to winning games but establishing a standard of classy behavior that helps put the ugliness of last year’s incident far in the rearview mirror.
Anglea came back to help mend the situation and put the program back on track.
“I love kids more than anything in the world,” Anglea said. “I have a job, I’m not a teacher, but building relationships are important in this day and age. I feel I have something Pike kids really grab onto. I’m demanding and very vocal, but when we get off the floor, I’m more of a father figure than a coach.”
Anglea rebuilt the program’s success on the court in a hurry, and helped mend its damaged reputation, too.
“We’ve talked about it,” Anglea said. “We win – win or lose, we’ve already won. We’re going to come out, enjoy the moment and try our hardest to finish the deal.”
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org.