Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Top Ten Moments: 4. Calvin Battles Albion When it Counts

10. Andy Draayer En Fuego
9. Calvin Claims Final GRSHOF Tournament Championship
8. Calvin Wins "Home" Tournament Game in Aurora
7. Matt Veltema's Only Field Goal Was a Good One
6. Hope's First Loss at DeVos, and Lightning Strikes Twice
5. Kyle Trewhella Stuns the Trinity Trolls

4. Calvin Battles Albion When it Counts (Feb. 26, 2005 and March 12, 2005)

As Calvin fans, we’re no strangers to tightly contested season series – the Knights play one with Hope nearly every year – but few of them are ever quite as important, tough, and hard-fought as the four game Calvin-Albion series was in the 2004-2005 season.

Entering the first meeting of the year (in mid-January), the Britons were a perfect 11-0 and held the #5 ranking in the country. Calvin, having suffered a loss to Division II Ferris State, a one-point loss to Cornerstone, and an overtime loss to Wheaton was sitting at 9-3 and was receiving a few Top 25 votes. Calvin battled hard to keep up with Albion inside the old Calvin Fieldhouse after falling behind by double digits early in the second half but, in the end, a Ricky Shilts heave at the buzzer wouldn’t fall and the Knights dropped the game by three points.

By the time the second meeting came around (at Historic Kresge Gymnasium in early February), the Britons had dropped a game (an overtime loss to Adrian), but their 17-1 record was still good enough for the same #5 ranking. Calvin had since ripped off six straight victories, and found themselves occupying the #18 spot in the poll.

The two sides traded the lead for much of the first half, but the Britons flexed their muscles out of the locker room to command a 19 point lead with just less than ten minutes to play in the game. This was the point (or hereabouts) in which I closed down the Real Player application on my computer deciding that engineering homework was best completed without the building anger and frustration.

Apparently, while I was operating under radio silence, the Knights pulled a 28-9 regulation-ending run out of their hats, capped by a half-court buzzer-beating three pointer by Dan Aultman. Hearing the joyous shouts of my suitemate, I tuned back into Doug (E Fresh) Wentworth to catch the extra session. Calvin took the early lead in overtime, but Albion was able to finally take the lead with nine seconds on the clock. The Knights would come up a basket short again.*

*Just realizing this for the first time actually, but Calvin lost a ton of close games that year. After losing to Ferris State by 12 early in the year, their only subsequent losses were by one, four (in overtime), three, two (in overtime), three, and three (in the Final Four).

At 12-2, Albion claimed the regular season MIAA crown (one of the rare instances in which neither Calvin nor Hope laid claim to the title). Calvin came in second at 11-3. Predictably, the two would meet in the MIAA Tournament Championship game. For Calvin, this was a win-or-go-home game. They had won 21 games to that point, but the tournament was much smaller back then (I want to say it was only 48 teams), and there just weren’t many at-large bids to hand out.

The MIAA Tournament Championship between the Knights and Britons would go down just as the previous two had, except completely opposite. This time it was the Knights who built the double digit second half lead, and Albion who came all the way back to make it a one possession game in the final minutes.

A Kyle Trewhella three pointer gave Calvin a 20 point margin with 18:30 remaining in the game, but a 27-10 Albion run cut the lead to only three points with over seven minutes still left on the clock. The final seven and a half minutes of the game stayed heart wrenchingly close, but Calvin allowed Albion to get no closer. In the end, Albion was forced to foul, and it was Dan Aultman, Calvin’s clear MVP who knocked down the games final point from the free throw line to give the Knights a two-possession lead. Albion could only heave one final shot, but it wouldn’t matter either way. Calvin was going back to the NCAA Tournament.

Calvin was sent out on the road to Chicagoland, and after a couple of close wins versus Wheaton and Aurora, they came back to Michigan for the sectional rounds. The host site: Albion’s (historic) Kresge Gymnasium. Albion’s 24-3 record was good enough to grab one of the elusive few at-large berths to the big dance. The Britons were one of the top seeds in a region, so they were actually given a first round bye and the opportunity to host a few game.

In the Sweet Sixteen, Calvin dispatched Mississippi College with ease (the final margin was some 15 points), and Albion’s last second half-court heave topped John Carroll (who had just hit a not-quite last second shot of their own). The MIAA vs. MIAA Elite Eight match was set up, and it would be a defensive struggle.

I can honestly say that this game held one of the best atmospheres of any single game that I have attended. (Historic) Kresge was packed out. No one knew what to expect, but everyone knew that it was going to go down to the wire.

Calvin held a two-possession lead for most of the first half, and all I can remember was that my head was filled with “FINAL FOUR… DON’T LOSE THE LEAD… FINAL FOUR…DON’T LOSE THE LEAD”. This continued into the second half until Albion took a one point lead with about five minutes to go. I think either my heart stopped, I threw up, or blacked out at this point (I can’t remember which because either I was blacked out, my heart was stopped, or I was busy throwing up).

Thankfully, Albion’s lead lasted for less than 30 seconds. The Knights would regain their (small) lead, and connect on five out of six free throws down the stretch to salt away the game. I don’t have any recollection of the following 24 hours (due to euphoria, not substance, come on people) except that we booked a hotel for Salem, Virginia for the following weekend.

The eight point margin makes this game seem rather comfortable for the Knights, but the lead was only one entering the final minute of action. It was the classic Calvin-Albion battle that we came to know and hate that season. Even though the four-game season series ended up in a 2-2 split, it was the Knights who came away as the victors when all the cards were on the table.

As far as Calvin moments goes, I put this one at #4, but I frequently call this the best game (of any sport ever) that I’ve ever attended.

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