Only 33 seconds remained on the clock Saturday night when Marshall coach Sal Konkle’s favorite player in the world walked to the free-throw line.
Konkle’s left elbow rested on her right arm that was folded in front of her, and she bit down on her pointer finger as it seemed to dawn on her that her team was about to win the Class B state championship that eluded her in 1981 when she was Marshall’s star player.
Early Saturday, Konkle received a text from a teammate on that ’81 team.
“Not a lot of people get do-overs in life, and you got a do-over,” it read. “So can you just make this happen?”
Tom Duffey, her high school coach, texted her that this time would be the charm.
The No. 9 Redhawks were the underdogs when they played No. 5 Grand Rapids South Christian in the championship game, but not quite as much as they were Friday when they shocked No. 2 Bay City Glenn, the AAU team disguised as a high school team, to move into the finals.
Her pregame speech Saturday was rather short:
“You can do anything for 32 minutes — you can do anything. If you do this for 32 minutes, you’re going to be state champions. If you don’t do it for 32 minutes, you’re going to regret that for the rest of your life.”
Following Marshall’s 51-42 victory over South Christian, Konkle found something to regret.
For some time the girls had been talking about Lance Hawblitz getting a tattoo if the team won the state championship. During one of the discussions, Konkle lost her head and told her players that if they won the title, she would get a tattoo.
“I’m not a big tattoo fan,” she said, “but it looks like I’m getting a tattoo.”
Konkle has an idea of the kind of tattoo she will get, but the exact location is going to be a problem.
This was Konkle’s 16th season at Marshall, where she built an outstanding program but one that hadn’t been to the state finals since ’81.
Several years ago, she had the opportunity to become a head college coach, but she turned it down.
“She never really said why,” said the girl who was standing at the free-throw line with 33 seconds left, “but my guess is she wanted to be able to coach me.”
That was junior Jill Konkle, the coach’s daughter, who scored a team-high 13 points in the final.
Over the years, Konkle has built the program without the benefit of transfers or AAU school-of-choice kids. She has done it through hard work, and she is a demanding coach.
“It’s everything she does,” said Jill. “She’ll do whatever I want. I’ll ask if we can watch some film together … go to the gym. She’s an all-around great coach. She gets on us, but, at the end of the day, we all know she loves us.”
Jill can say that with conviction because her teammates are more than just players to her mother.
“They’ve all become my girls,” Konkle said. “When you grow up in a small town, these kids are over at your house. They go to proms, they do everything together. That’s what makes it so special for us.”
The most special part of all was coaching Jill, the feisty guard who backs down from no one, even her mother, the coach. Make that, especially her mother, the coach.
In fact, the two butted heads so often that Konkle didn’t know if she could coach Jill through high school. Mother and daughter were too much alike.
“She’s kind of tough, isn’t she?” Konkle asked, rhetorically. “She’s a little gritty. I like it. We went through our ups and down in coaching her. I threatened to quit a couple of times. I told her: ‘Somebody else can do this, because this is not enjoyable for me and this can’t be enjoyable for you.’ ”
Finally, after Mitch, one of Konkle’s sons, intervened, an understanding was reached, and it has been smooth sailing for mother and daughter.
No one is happier than Jill that she has been able to play for her mother.
“I don’t even think I can put into words how it feels,” her voice cracking as tears welled in her eyes. “Ever since I was little, she’s been my No. 1 supporter, so being able to have her experience this with me is a dream come true.”
But exactly where is Mom going to put that tattoo?
“I might have to do ankle,” Konkle said. “I don’t even want to get a tattoo, but I will because I promised.
“What was I thinking? It worked — that’s what I was thinking.”
Contact Mick McCabe: 313-223-4744 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mickmccabe1.