The KC initials they wear on their uniforms rest near their hearts. And that is where Kevin Collins always will be.
The Southern Columbia girls basketball team experienced tragedy last July when Collins, their former coach, died of a heart attack. A players' coach who led Southern to its first district final in seven years last March suddenly was gone. Collins' players and coaches are making sure his spirit lives on.
And somewhere, Collins must be smiling while watching his team perform.
Emma Fox of Loyalsock, let, loses the ball as Jill Oley of Southern Columbia defends Saturday at Loyalsock.
Southern overcame an eight-point third-quarter deficit Friday and rallied in the final two minutes as it edged Loyalsock, 60-57 on the road Saturday and remained undefeated. Jill Oley's steal and layup with 90 seconds remaining put Southern (4-0, 2-0 HAC-II) ahead to stay and Mackenzie Clark scored a game-high 20 points.
"When we began the season we realized we're no longer mourning, we're carrying on his legend," Southern coach Kim Chaundy said. "We kneel at the beginning of every game because we're not only praying for the passion of the game, but we're also now playing for a purpose and the focus is Kevin."
The Tigers are short on experience and height. Only two starters are back from last year's state qualifier and only one contributor is taller than 5-foot-9. Southern, though, has loads of resilience, toughness and fight. The Tigers dominated the boards, dissected Loyalsock's defense and kept coming back time after time when it appeared the Lancers (1-4, 1-1) were close to landing a knockout blow.
After trailing by four midway through the fourth quarter, Southern ended the game on a 10-3 run as Oley twice made steals in the final 20 seconds. The Tigers were up by one both times. Clark, 16 of 18 at the foul line, hit two free throws to extend the lead to 60-57 then grabbed the rebound off a missed foul shot with 2.7 seconds remaining and held the ball as time expired.
Nothing came easy, but the Tigers found a way. They are playing just the way Collins taught them.
"Going through what we have, it's easier to want it," Clark said. "We want to do it for Coach Collins and when we're down you just want to get back and we just want to do everything for him."
As thrilling as the win was for Southern, it was equally frustrating for Loyalsock. The Lancers were hurt by fouls in a foul-marred game that included 54 fouls, 75 free throws and three disqualifications. Still, Loyalsock left the game there for the taking and the Tigers took it.
Loyalsock's defense played its worst game this season, as Southern constantly attacked the basket. When the Tigers did miss they often were there for second, third and fourth opportunities, especially in the second half. Ultimately, those things and a series of costly turnovers doomed Loyalsock and prevented it from getting a big win.
"Whatever sport it is you have to constantly be in an athletic position and we were not in an athletic position at all in the fourth quarter. We stood right up. There was no movement at all," Loyalsock coach Demarr Wright said. "Any time you do that, you foul, you don't box out and you turn the ball over and those are the things we did today."
Loyalsock appeared in good shape at halftime. Four starters had two fouls by early in the second quarter and Wright pulled all four while relying on his reserves. The bench came up big and helped Loyalsock take a 28-27 halftime lead as Emma Fox (10 points, 6 rebounds) played the best game of her scholastic career.
"I came into the locker room and told the starters in foul trouble you owe them. They saved you," Wright said. "I thought we were going to be down but our reserves came in and did an excellent job."
After the starters returned to start the second half, Loyalsock continued heating up and stretched the lead to 41-33. The fouls and miscues, though, soon started piling up again and Southern pulled within one by the end of the third quarter. After Southern surged ahead late, two Gee free throws pulled Loyalsock within 58-57. Cellina Salvatori and Angie Cardillo made steals on Southern's next two possessions, but a miss and another Oley steal prevented Loyalsock from regaining the lead.
Cardillo scored a career-high 15 points, grabbed nine rebounds and made two steals. It was a breakout performance but it was overshadowed by Southern's determined play. Chaundy used 11 players and all made a positive impact, constantly hustling and making positive things happen.
No District 4 team endured a bigger loss last offseason than Southern. But the Tigers fight on. Win or lose, they are paying Collins the ultimate compliment.
"We honor him through the way we play," Clark said. "Basketball meant so much to him."
"It shows the type of team we decided we were coming out with this year," Chaundy said. "They're definitely inspired and I'm proud to be coaching them."
Mackenzie Clark 2 16-18 20, Jill Oley 4 3-6 12, Haley Levan 4 0-4 8, Reba Lyash 0 2-9 2, Shannon Daubert 3 2-4 8, Teanna Shutt 3 2-4 8, Mackenzie Chaundy 1 0-0 2. Totals 17 25-45 60.
Allie Pagana 3 3-4 9, Kayla Gee 4 4-4 14, Cellina Salvatori 1 0-2 2, Kendall Watkins 0 0-0 0, Angie Cardillo 5 5-11 15, Abby Sullivan 1 0-1 3, Emma Fox 5 0-5 10, Missy Hill 1 2-2 4, Jessie Burdett 0 0-0 0, Lauren Rude 0 0-0 0. Totals 20 14-28 57.
Southern13 14 20 13-60
Loyalsock 15 13 20 9-57
3-pointers: Southern 1 (Oley); Loyalsock 3 (Gee 2, Sullivan).
Records: Southern 4-0, 2-0 HAC-II. Loyalsock 1-4, 1-1.
JV Score: Southern 53-17.