Vaught's Views: Players make March special

March 02, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LANCASTER - This was not a game that will have an impact on who eventually wins the boys high school state basketball championship.

It was a game, though, that shows why basketball tournament time really is special in this state.

Mercer County beat Burgin 71-66 Monday in an entertaining game here to start March Madness locally. The Garrard County gym had a near capacity crowd - a rare sight at any area high school game - that included bands from both schools to make the atmosphere even more festive.

But what makes tournament time special is the players and Mercer senior John Lyons and Burgin junior Shane Trayner personified what March Madness means.

Lyons came into the game with a lot to prove. He had already played on two 46th District Tournament championship teams. However, he felt the Scotties lacked respect going into postseason play even though they were the top seed in the district.


"When you are a senior, certain things motivate you more," said Lyons, who scored 11 points. "We were the No. 1 seed, but we got no respect. Everybody was talking about beating us. Everybody was saying this was going to be Burgin's year. It was like nobody thought we could step up and win again. But we still want to win."

That didn't change when one of his friends, Clif Watkins, surprisingly left the team during Friday's comeback win over Pulaski Southwestern. Lyons didn't want to talk about the circumstances of Watkins' departure, but Watkins was Mercer's leading scorer.

"Clif is a great friend and player and I'm not sure why he did what he did," Lyons said. "I wouldn't have done that. I want to keep playing as long as I can."

Trayner didn't expect to play at all. He had missed most of the season because of a thumb injury on his left hand that required surgery. He went to the doctor Monday hoping only to get permission to start rehabilitation work to get ready for the upcoming baseball season. Instead, the doctor said everything looked strong and gave him his release to play in Monday's game if he wanted.

Trayner didn't even have his uniform or shoes at school. He wasn't sure coach Don Irvine would even let him play. He had gone through plays at practice, but he had not done anything full speed. Still, he wanted to play and try to help Burgin's four seniors earn the school's first regional tournament berth since 1986.

"It was like a miracle when I got released to play," Trayner said. "I've been best friends with those seniors forever and I wanted to try and help them win. I think I'll always remember at least getting to try and help them win, but I really wish I could have done more to help these seniors keep going. But at least I got to play and try. That's more than I thought I was going to get to do."

That intensity is what makes tournament time special. Lyons said a district tournament basketball game has a far different feeling than an early round football playoff game.

"You get more pumped up for the basketball because you know everyone you are playing against," Lyons said. "In football, you usually play a team you don't know. It's not the same as playing against people you know. That's what makes playing, and winning, so special."

It's almost what makes the losing so painful.

"It just breaks your heart to know what our seniors went through and how much they wanted to win," Burgin coach Don Irvine said. "They were not throwing away passes on purpose or missing a block out. The human body can only do so much."

Which is what makes March Madness so intriguing.

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