WWW. Y E A R O F T H E M I G H T Y MA C S . C OM
playing for a lot of different reasons. That botheredmemore than anything,
because it was something I couldn’t control. I knew their emotions were at
another level, and they were playing before their home fans.
The game came down to the wire. The score was tied, 53-53, at the end.
I went in to shoot the ball, and I was fouled. But the officials couldn’t
decide whether the foul occurred before the end of regulation or after the
buzzer. They had the rule book out and were arguing with the tournament
administrators and the official timer at the scorer’s table. (This, of course,
was before instant replay.) They were going back and forth, and some
people thought the only fair thing to do was to play overtime.
Then Cathy and Ed Rush jumped into the discussion along with Helen
Mooney and her rule book. They were screaming, “If it happens before
the buzzer, you have to shoot the ball!” Twenty minutes later, I walked
to the free-throw line to attempt two free throws. I was beginning to feel
nervous, so I went over to my father who was in the stands. We had a brief
conversation that had nothing to do with basketball. He calmed me down.
I made the first and we won the game. But I wanted to make the second so
no one could say it was a fluke.
We would meet West Chester the next day for the Regional title. We had
played their third and fourth teams during the regular season and had
crushed them both. We had never played their first team.
We went out to dinner after our victory over Towson State and it took
forever to get our meal; that was a big mistake. We needed to conserve
our energy. It didn’t take us long to realize that we were not playing the
same West Chester we had defeated twice earlier that season. This team
was meeting us for the first time – and they practically abolished us, 70-38.
Before that game, we had decided to give Cathy flowers. We ordered a big
arrangement and a corsage. I’m sure Maureen Mooney’s parents paid for
the whole thing. Afterwards, we gave Cathy the flowers. The accompanying
card read: “To our No. 1 coach from your No. 2 team.” From that point on,
we never gave flowers on game day because we felt it was bad luck. That
stuck with me throughout my coaching career at St. Joseph’s, Rutgers, and
Illinois. When I was coaching later at Rutgers and Illinois, I would call the
florist and tell him, “If any flowers come for me on the day of a game, do
not deliver them. Send them to the church, hospital, or nursing home but
not to me.”
As winner of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Tournament, West Chester
received an automatic bid to participate in the AIAWNational Tournament.
But since our region was so large, Immaculata was also invited because
we were the runners-up, and the only game we lost that year was to West
Chester in the regional championship.
The media gave us quite a beating after the clock appeared to strike
midnight on our Cinderella story. This was during the oil embargo, and
creative reporters across the nation were writing such clever comments as:
“Now here’s this cute little story…But Immaculata has just run out of gas.”
And there was a healthy bit of skepticism on campus after that crushing
defeat in the Regionals. There were some students who questioned
whether or not we could realistically expect to beat the same team that had
slaughtered us by 32 points in the Regionals. They felt it was a waste of
precious time and good money to cover the expenses for a trip of 800 miles
to Normal, Illinois.
All credit belongs to our then-president, Sister Mary of Lourdes, and her
many supportive “buddies,” who were the ones who pushed the idea. Sister
herself was a former basketball star at John W. Hallahan Catholic High
School for Girls, one of the tradition-rich teams in the Philadelphia Catholic
League. With the writing on the wall, there was certainly no reason for us
to make the trip. What would the school gain by it? But the Sisters were
insistent. “We’re sending them,” they said. The more optimistic prayed,
“Dear God, let them win at least one game to maintain their self-esteem.”
And the more desperate begged, “Just let them go, Lord, and keep them safe.”
If it had been a man in charge, he would have been more pragmatic,
figuring these were just a bunch of dumb girls. “We’re not sending them,”
he would mutter. “This is just a waste of time. It was a nice little run.
Enough’s enough!” But the Sisters did send us, with the advice, “Just go
out there and do your best for dear old Immaculata.”
Coach Cathy Rush
runs through plays
with the Mighty Macs