BOWLING GREEN, Ky.
Stacy Pendleton has coached in the past two state championship games, leading his Manual High School girls’ basketball team to its first Sweet 16 title last March.
But on this Thursday — with the future of his coaching career on the line — Pendleton is relegated to connecting his laptop to a big-screen TV in a hotel lobby in order to watch his Lady Crimsons play.
It’s the first round of the state tournament — No. 6 Manual vs. No. 3 Mercy at E.A. Diddle Arena — and Pendleton can’t be on the sideline. He received two technical fouls and was ejected from his team’s 62-60 overtime victory over Sacred Heart on March 1 in the Seventh Region Tournament semifinals.
Kentucky High School Athletic Association rules state any coach ejected from a game must serve a three-game suspension, meaning Pendleton couldn’t coach in the regional final or the first two games of the Sweet 16.
For Pendleton, who already has announced this will be his final season coaching at Manual, the past two weeks have been an emotional hell. He said he feels helpless.
“I’ve never felt anything like this, other than a death,” Pendleton said. “It’s awful to equate it to death, but because it’s the end of my career it’s just messed up. It’s awful.”
Pendleton allowed a reporter to follow him Thursday — before, during and after Manual’s game. The only stipulation of the suspension from the KHSAA was that Pendleton couldn’t be in Diddle Arena from tipoff to the final buzzer.
* 9 a.m. — Pendleton meets his players and coaches for breakfast. Ten minutes earlier he had received a text message from Manual athletic director David Zuberer, stating that a final appeal of the suspension has been denied by the KHSAA. As expected, assistant Tim Holman will coach against Mercy.
“I’ve talked to other coaches,” Pendleton said, “and the KHSAA just doesn’t overturn those decisions.”
* 1:45 p.m. — It’s 20 minutes before tipoff of the game, and Pendleton is ready to leave Diddle Arena and return to his hotel to watch the game. He met with the team in the locker room earlier and gave them some final instructions.
“I said, ‘These times demand greatness. I don’t care about any excuses. I don’t care if Tim messes up. … I don’t care who messes up. When it gets tough, you guys have to get tight,’ ” he said.
* 2:30 p.m. — Manual leads 15-6 after one quarter. Pendleton is pleased with the substitution patterns, something he said was a major problem for the remaining coaches during Manual’s 36-34 victory over Assumption in the regional final.
One change Pendleton made after the regional final was giving the substitution duties to assistant coach Morissa Benberry, a 2001 Manual graduate who played basketball there.
* 2:41 p.m. — Manual leads 19-18, 5:05 in second quarter. Mercy has scored 13 of its 18 points from the free-throw line. “Stop fouling!” Pendleton yells at the TV.
* 2:59 p.m. — Manual leads 36-30 at halftime. A fan from Letcher County Central, which will play later, is asking Pendleton about the game. Engrossed in the action, Pendleton barely responds.
* 3:23 p.m. — Manual leads 42-30 after Erika Hawkins’ 3-pointer with 5:05 left in the third quarter. Pendleton is screaming at the TV: “Footwork! Yes! Yes! Great run! Great run!”
* 3:42 p.m. — Manual’s lead is cut to 55-44 after Mercy’s Erin Muthler hit a 3-pointer to end the third quarter. “Eleven points is not a big enough lead on Mercy,” Pendleton said.
* 3:54 p.m. — Manual leads 69-52 after Aricka Prentice’s jumper with 3:16 left. The basket came after a steal and assist from Erika Hawkins, whom Pendleton attempts to “high-five” through the TV as she runs down the court.
* 4:02 p.m. — With Manual leading 71-58 and 1:38 left to play, Pendleton packs up his laptop and heads back toward Diddle to celebrate with his team.
* 4:45 p.m
. — With his team’s postgame interviews complete, Pendleton waits in the hallway outside the locker room and gives hugs to seniors Destony Curry and Kayla Styles.