They’re all way too young to know anything about disco, but for much of the first quarter of the Division II state basketball semifinal at the Schottenstein Center on Thursday, the Alter girls gave new life to an old-school classic.
“Le Freak” was a big hit for a band called Chic in the late 1970s. And it was the perfect sound track for the Knights’ start against Toledo Rogers.
“We were all freaking out,” junior guard and top scorer Emma Bockrath said.
Although they had come into the game unbeaten, having outscored their 28 opponents by an average of 30.5 points, the Knights short-circuited at the start of this one.
“We had heard a bunch of media talk about how great they were — how they had six D-I players and were big and athletic — and I think that contributed to us being a little scared and not believing in ourselves,” Bockrath continued. “The pressure, the energy of the crowd, all the emotion — we just got too nervous.”
Although Rogers came in 24-4, three of its losses had been to schools from Ohio’s biggest division and the other was to the eventual Louisiana state champion in a holiday tournament in Florida. As for the NCAA D-I prospects: two underclassmen already are committed to Michigan and older players are headed to the Miami RedHawks, Lamar and two to Eastern Michigan.
With the old “freak out!…freak out!” disco tune pounding in their pysches, the Knights started off shaky. Their first three shots were blocked. None of their first seven field goal attempts touched the rim and three other times they turned the ball over.
Quickly, Rogers was up 9-0.
“Right then that was the best feeling in the world,” said Rogers superb guard Sasha Dailey, an EMU recruit who led her team with 10 points. “We were at Ohio State, playing aggressively, feeling real confident.”
Teammate Jasmyne Smith, who’ll play for Miami next season, agreed: “We came out with the mindset we had to play defense to get into their heads … and obviously we did.”
Bockrath didn’t disagree: “I was kind of depressed how we were freaking out. We weren’t used to being down and people were hanging their heads and getting down on themselves.”
Chris Hart, Alter’s co-head coach, said she shared a thought on the bench with assistant coach Rochelle Meinking: “A couple of times I told her, ‘We just need to score that first basket and then everyone will settle in and relax and we’ll be okay.’ ”
Hart was right — barely.
Bockrath finally hit a driving layup with 3:19 left in the quarter. She was fouled in the process and made the free throw, scored another basket inside 25 seconds later and another with 1:35 left after a Rogers bucket.
Alter trailed 15-9 at the end of the first quarter and was down 30-22 after two periods. It was the team’s first halftime deficit all season. The game was knotted 36-36 after three quarters and then came the shot that finally proved disco is dead.
Alter’s Mattie Bazelak rebounded a Braxtin Miller miss, crossed under the basket and flipped a perfect shot backwards — “I work on them in practice,” she later grinned — to give the Knights a lead they would never relinquish.
Still, the Knights were only assured the 50-47 victory when the 3-point heave a few steps from midcourt by Rogers freshman Breylnn Hampton-Bey was off the mark.
The Toledo guard fell face-first and lay there in anguish until Alter’s Hayley Combs gently helped lift her up.
Meanwhile, Bockrath and Miller hugged at midcourt, not just in celebration of the team’s 29th straight victory, but in relief they hadn’t just been handed their first defeat.
The Knights now play Millersburg West Holmes for the Division II state crown Saturday morning at 10:45.
“I would just like to commend the Rogers team, they played really well,” Alter’s co-head coach Kendal Peck said. “So much is made of the winner and the loser, but it was a one-possession game and if one shot had gone the other way, we’d be on the other end of this.
“One possession is the difference between heartbreak and celebration. That’s sports. And that’s why we play.”
One person who knows something about perfection is Hart.
The last time the Alter girls put together a long unbeaten string was in the 1979-1980 season. They finished the regular season unscathed and lost in the regionals. The coach was Theresa Check and the senior point guard was Hart.
Bazelak, who would finish with nine points and eight rebounds, said at the start of the game Hart told the team something that resonated later: “She told us ‘no regrets’ and that’s how we went out there and played. We gave it everything we got.”
When her team was faltering early on, Bockrath, who finished with a game-high 14 points, finally was able to grasp one galvanizing thought: “I knew someone had to step up and make the first shot. Then everyone else would know they could do the same and we’d settle down and start to be ourselves.”
And who are the Knights?
They’re a team, said Miller who “wants the state championship soooo bad … it took us to all get together today and say, ‘We refuse to lose this game.’ That’s actually been one of our biggest quotes through the whole tournament: ‘Refuse to lose.’ ”
Before Thursday, the closest any team had gotten to Alter had been Carroll, which lost by 12.
Afterward Bockrath said her team, rather than withering on the big stage, had actually grown:
“We learned you can’t just look at a list of players who got offers to colleges and assume they are a better team. The thing that makes you better is how you play together. We ended up doing that today and you know we have the definite potential to one day have six Division I players, too.”
They also are one game away from a state crown and perfection.
In the end, Thursday, there was no disco.
And there were no regrets either.