By: Nick Hall
They say lightening never strikes in the same spot twice. Don’t tell that to Caden Millican. Millican has a unique hobby. Some people like to fish. Some like to golf. Caden likes to win state basketball championships with buzzer beater shots. Millican finished last Friday’s state championship game with 15 points, the last two to win the game. Don’t ask him about it though. He’d rather talk about “the pass” by Jeffery Armstrong, or “the pass 2.0” by Tristan Willingham. You see, sportswriters and commentators tend to get hung up on one electric moment in time. It makes for good articles and even better television. But Caden Millican understands what head coach Robi Coker has drilled into all his players heads throughout their careers, each man is just a cog in a machine called team.
Electric finishes can’t happen if every man on the floor doesn’t play his heart out on defense. This one certainly wouldn’t have happened if Koby Tinker hadn’t put on a shooting clinic from behind the arc in the third period, on his way to tournament MVP honors. Tinker went 5-of-7 from deep and finished with 25 points. That, along with crucial momentum baskets by Dane Haymon and Haden White who each netted seven points, extending their teams lead to 14. Turns out that is exactly the amount of lead the Plainview Bears needed to slip past the Westminster Christian Wildcats on their way to their second Class 3A, state basketball championship in as many years.
Plainview won the first three periods but the Wildcats legendary head coach Ronnie Stapler, who is noted for his defenses, put the clamps on in the fourth and the Bears lead began to evaporate. Plainview only managed two baskets in the final period. Then there’s Willingham, who didn’t score a single point in the entire game. Not one. All he did, was turned in an SEC Network, critically acclaimed performance in a little play called Panic. He fooled me. I thought he was trapped and visibly shaken. So did the entire Westminster Christian team as they converged on him, leaving the basket unattended. Millican pulled Westminster Christian’s Auston Leslie down the baseline then broke quickly back to the basket where Willingham delivered a perfect bounce pass. Tinker had set the screen while Haymon and White drew their defenders away from the basket. Probably everyone in Legacy Arena thought the game was headed to overtime. We were all wrong. Coker had the play, which he called “leopard” since December. The team had repped it many times, including that very morning during their last practice at Mountain Brook High School. Stapler said he had seen all of Coker’s plays but added, “I hadn’t seen that one.”
From my seat behind the Bears’ bench, I watched as Coker sat his troops down during the final timeout with only 31 seconds left to play. Leslie had just sunk two free throws to tie the game at 52-all when Coker smiled at has team and said, with a confidence I couldn’t begin to imagine in that situation, “it’s over.” And in 31 seconds it was.