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Editor's Note: Perry County Storm won the Hoosier Men's State Basketball Tourney Sunday at Indiana State University in Terre Haute. Head Coach Mike Gibson penned this column on the experience.
Hoosier Hysteria is alive and well in Special Olympics Indiana. For the record, the Hoosier Men's State Basketball Tournament is the third-largest event of any state competition and the largest Special Olympics basketball event in the world.
The finals are held at Indiana State University on courts where Larry Bird first picked up a basketball as a Sycamore and Perry County native Aaron Carter now practices.
The Perry County Storm, with its loyal following of Storm Chasers, blew into ISU Saturday on a mission. They came to win their second consecutive Special Olympics Master's Division Four State Title.
They wanted to bring back-to-back state titles home to Perry County, a feat no other county sports team had yet accomplished. Traveling without two of their key players, sidelined due to illness, the team dedicated the championship to those teammates, Don Greene and J.D. Richter.
It wasn't going to be easy. In the semi-final round the Storm faced the talented Tippecanoe County Magic. The Storm played its usual full-court press and fast-break style, but seemed to have left their game on the court at Boonville, where they won the sectional title.
The Magic jumped out to an early lead and stretched it to 16-8 midway through the second quarter, before a time out was called that allowed coaches to offer words of encouragement that rung throughout the gymnasium.
After that time out, they could have just given up but instead the team stepped up their game from a cool breeze to a full-blown whirlwind. Andrew Embry, Simon Smith and Emily Arnold led the high-pressure defense, Tim Snyder hauled down rebounds and fired lightning-bolt outlet passes to Kevin Rates, who elevated his game to another level, raining in shot after shot.
The Storm soon tied the score and pulled ahead. At a hurricane pace, the team had to rely on its superior conditioning and deep bench to pull away from the tiring Magic.
Strong play off the bench came from Haley Arnold, Adam Stilwell, Jenny Lutgring, Laura Zoglman and "Big Bob" Jasper.
As Bob said, "We really got after 'em." Assistants Ben Shelton, Brian Kanneberg, and Amy Gibson ran the bench, making sure players were ready to go back into the game on a substitute-a-minute schedule.
When the Storm surge subsided, Tippecanoe found themselves up a creek without a paddle. The final score was 56–39 in favor of the Storm. Rates had poured in an amazing 45 points on 22 of 28 shots from the field and was one for four from the line, with Smith chipping in 7, and Embry adding 4 to round out the scoring.
Now it was on to the finals. Playing on center court Sunday afternoon, the Storm faced the towering St. Joe County Pride, with four players 6-foot to 6-foot, 8-inches in height.
After falling behind by 6 points in the opening period, the Storm again turned up the heat, utilizing its minute subs to wear down the Pride to lead 14-10 at the end of the first quarter. From there, they never looked back, stretching the lead to 30-18 at halftime, and finishing ahead 52–40.
Again leading the way with 28 points was Rates. Smith dropped in 16 and Embry had 8 for the Storm. Mission accomplished.
Some folks may try to add an asterisk to the accomplishment by saying The Perry County Storm has special athletes. Those of us who know would answer, "Special? You bet they are."