SEMINOLE — The scoreboard never lies, but sometimes it gives the truth a little nudge.
Take the girls basketball game between Dixie Hollins and Osceola on Tuesday night. No one asked for mercy, and no one announced it was being granted. It just kind of showed up on the scoreboard in the second half when the clock began to run continuously.
Fouls, double drills, out-of-bounds passes. Didn’t matter. The clock kept running. It’s the polite way of bringing a merciful end to a game that is hopelessly lost.
And for Osceola, it feels like the clock has been running continuously since November.
Based on rankings, the Warriors are the worst Class 7A team in the state. Based on what I saw Tuesday night, they are also my new favorite basketball team.
Funny how a 102-2 loss can change your worldview.
That was the score of Osceola’s game against Clearwater last week. And it made me wonder how a team can possibly come back from that. Do players quit? Do they argue? Do they sulk?
Other teams might, but Osceola didn’t.
The Warriors showed up for the next game against Dixie with more hope than an 0-18 team probably deserves. They missed layups during pre-game warmups, and they had fewer players than cheerleaders.
Yet they carried themselves with more dignity than disgrace. They’re an awful team, no doubt about that. They can’t dribble and they can’t shoot. But they never hang their heads, and they never point fingers. They’ll roll their eyes at their own shortcomings, but they never treat the game as a joke.
“These girls were taking crap even before the season started,’’ coach Charles Eddings said. “I told them, ‘It’s brave of you to come out for your first year with a bunch of other first-year players and know you’re going to get beat. You lose by 40 and come out and practice again. You lose by 30 and come out and practice again. You keep coming back and keep getting better.’
“ ‘It’s really easy for other kids to walk the hallways and not risk anything. Those kids aren’t risking the losses, the hurt, the embarrassment. It’s easy to talk about the people who are. But you’re here going through it and they’re not and their words should mean absolutely nothing to you.’’ ’
It wasn’t always like this at Osceola. In his first season as coach in 2017-18, Eddings had a pair of guards who grew up around the game, and the Warriors were nearly a .500 team.
But the guards graduated and two of Osceola’s top returnees blew out their knees. Months before a new season, Eddings was recruiting softball and flag football players just to field a complete team.
Conventional gameplans went out the window. Without adequate ball-handlers, the strategy on offense is a lot of end-to-end passes and quick shots. Nearly half the passes end up in the bleachers or through open doorways, but it’s better than constant turnovers against a press.
In some ways, there’s a lot of freedom in low expectations. Focus on doing one thing right, and even a blowout loss can have a redeeming value.
At the end of the first quarter against Dixie on Tuesday night, the Warriors trailed 18-5. When he gathered his team on the bench, Eddings did not talk about the missed shots or horrible passes. Instead, he cautioned them that they were out of position on defense and committing too many fouls.
“It wasn’t a bad quarter, it wasn’t a good quarter,’’ he told them without a shred of condescension. “You were just slightly out of control.’’
A minute into the second quarter, they were losing 24-5 and hadn’t gotten the ball past midcourt.
“My pride, my ego are battered,’’ he would say later. “My soul is weary.’’
The final score was 57-9. Personally, I thought it was 59-9 but no one from Dixie was arguing.
All in all, it was a pretty typical night. Through their now-19 consecutive losses, the Warriors have been outscored by an average of 62-11.
Their season now is a week away from ending, and it’s hard to see a victory anywhere in sight.
At least not in the conventional sense.
“It takes a different person to come back every day and still smile,’’ Eddings said. “There are days when I see long faces and frowns, but for the most part it’s been all smiles and excitement. That’s a special breed. If they can move on and be great at something else because of what they went through this season, then that will make it all worthwhile.’’