This is the sixth chapter of the BENchwarmer serial, published exclusively on wholesome-stories.com. Make sure you have read the earlier chapters before reading this chapter.
The first half concluded with a loud buzz from the scorer’s table, and I looked up at the scoreboard. There must have been more scoring while I had my head down, because our team was up by even more, 30-16.
No thanks to me, I thought.
Everyone went to the bench to get their water bottles and listen to Coach for a few minutes while they caught their breath before the start of the second half. Coach stood up, while the players all sat on the long, metal bench facing him. I personally didn’t have much of a need to catch my breath, as I had barely been in the game. In fact, since Allen Walker and Kevin Levine had stayed in the game until the end of the first half, I had played the shortest amount of anyone on the team.
Coach Jones congratulated us on what we did well, and reminded us to not let our guard down and let the other team go on a run and get back into the game.
“Box out and crash the boards,” Coach said, as he always did, reminding us to get into good position for rebounds, and to rebound aggressively.
“Keep that ball moving on offense. Let’s just keep playing our game, guys. Everyone’s doing great.”
Yeah, except for me.
“Okay, here’s the lineup to start the second half: Ben Taylor is starting at the one, Allen Walker is the two, Michael Lopez is still in at the three, Kevin’s in at the four, and John Green is our center. Gerald, William and Josh are starting on the bench, but we’ll get you guys in soon.”
I was excited to start the second half, even though I realized that Coach always put in the backups to start the second half. Even so, it was sort of a fresh start, and another chance to put a positive mark on the game. I hopped a little in place and moved my arms a bit to warm them up.
“Go get ‘em, Ben,” William said to me, and bumped my fist.
The referee whistled to signal the end of halftime, and stood at the baseline, waiting to hand the ball to the Sharks to pass it inbounds.
Since our team had won the opening tip-off, the Sharks started with the ball. With Number 22 on the bench to start the second half, Number 16 brought the ball up the court. I met him just beyond half-court in my defensive stance. He tried to dribble around me to the right and then the left, but I stopped him both times. Number 16 turned away from me and passed it to his shooting guard, who had come up near half-court to help him. Then, Number 16 surprised me by bolting toward the basket, obviously hoping for a pass back from his teammate. I ran after him. Sure enough, the shooting guard threw a strong, over-the-head pass in his direction.
I stuck my arm out in the direction of the ball, and the ball hit my hand, bounced on the court, and then went out of bounds.
FWEET! “Out of bounds! Blue ball!” The referee said, pointing in the direction of the Sharks’ basket.
As the referee handed the ball to the Sharks forward standing out of bounds so that he could pass it in, I took a few steps away from Number 16, who was standing in the center of the court at the three point line, what we call “the top of the key.”
Seeing his teammate so open, the Sharks forward threw a soft, arching inbound pass out to Number 16, and I seized the opportunity to jump in front of my opponent and snatch the ball from the air. I streaked down the court with no one in front of me. As I got to the basket, I slowed down a little as I prepared to jump up and lay the ball in.
As I attempted the layup, someone slammed into me from behind, knocking me down to the floor and making my shot miss wildly.
Ouch, I thought to myself, lying on the floor for a few seconds. Guess I shouldn’t have slowed down. Coach always tells me not to…
FWEET! “Personal Foul, Blue Number 16! Two shots!” The referee shouted.
I got up off the floor, and looked back at Number 16, who was now staring at me. He looked like a mean guy. Not scary or anything. Just mean. Maybe he was frustrated his team was losing so badly. Either way, I wasn’t scared of him, nor was I going to let him think that he intimidated me. I walked to the foul line, staring right back at him.
I stood behind the free throw line as the Eagles and the Sharks players lined up at the spots around the painted area. The referee bounced me the ball. I followed the same free throw routine that Chris Paul always does. Dribble the ball once. Catch it. Adjust my hands on the ball. Bend my knees slightly and shoot.
“Nice, Ben!” Coach called out from the bench after my first shot.
I caught the ball again from the referee and went into the same routine. Dribble the ball once. Catch it. Adjust my hands on the ball. Bend my knees slightly and shoot.
As we continued playing for the next few minutes, everything felt so good and normal again. True, I didn’t have all the starters playing alongside me, especially my best friend William, but I was still able to get into a groove on offense and stop my man on defense.
The Sharks called timeout to regroup, and I looked up at the scoreboard. We were winning, bigtime, 42-20 with fifteen minutes still left to play. It was shaping up to be a real blowout.
In our huddle, Coach Jones congratulated the players on a job well done so far, and said that the same players that had been on the floor would stay in the game.
Yes! I thought. I’m finally going to get some decent playing time.
Coach told us not to let our guard down, though, and reminded us that the game wasn’t over yet.
The Sharks came back out on the floor with all five of their starters, which meant that I would be covering Number 22 again, the same guy who had given me some trouble before.
It was likely that the Sharks had called timeout and brought back in all their starters in order to make one last strong push to catch up before the game was totally out of reach. We could expect their very best effort in the minutes to come.