Mutka: Valparaiso’s ARC not for the faint of heart
By John Mutka Post-Tribune senior correspondent firstname.lastname@example.org March 10, 2013 6:40PM
Valparaiso University Head Coach Bryce Drew reacts to a call in their game against Green Bay during the Horizon League men's basketball tournament semifinals held at Valparaiso University on Saturday March 9, 2013. | Charles Mitchell~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 12, 2013 6:31AM
VALPARAISO — If you’ve got a weak ticker here’s a piece of advice: You might consider staying away from the ARC on Tuesday night. Three straight buzzer-beaters in less than 30 hours over the weekend. Another could be life-threatening.
Welcome to the Horizon League, which will determine its NCAA Tournament representative when Valparaiso squares off against Wright State. The Raiders endeared themselves to VU fans by shocking defending tournament champion Detroit.
Several cardiac arrests would have been understandable reactions to Ryan Broekhoff’s miraculous, falling-on-his-fanny 3-pointer. Anticipating more of the same Tuesday, Porter Hospital might consider setting up an intensive care unit in Hilltop Gym, which doubles as a hospitality room for alumni and season ticket holders.
Even Broekhoff had trouble believing his shot tickled nothing but twine as the overhead clock rang up a triple zero.
“It’s kind of a blur,” he said after crediting teammate Kevin Van Wijk with grabbing the defensive rebound to launch the closing sequence.
“I didn’t think it was going in. It felt terrible coming out of my hands.”
Snubbed for Horizon player of the year honors, the amazing Aussie symbolically thumbed his nose at those who gave the nod to Detroit’s Ray McCallum Jr. Most of his 25 points came from a different zip code. Broekhoff knocked down 5 of 9 threes, grabbed six rebounds and dished out six assists. Meanwhile, Van Wijk spent much of the second half riding a bike behind VU’s bench to keep a gimpy ankle from worsening, but still finished with 17 points.
Both outscored McCallum, who toiled for nearly 38 minutes without a basket in the Titans’ semifinal loss to Wright State.
Coach Bryce Drew excused Van Wijk from the post-mortems for some TLC from trainer Rod Moore, but his status is uncertain.
Drew knows a thing or two about game-winning shots, having piggybacked the Crusaders to the Sweet 16 in 1998. Talking about Broekhoff’s heroics, he shook his head incredulously.
“He lost the ball, picked it up and had a 6-10 player (Brennan Cougill) in his face,” Drew said. “I thought it was going to be blocked.”
Green Bay’s Brian Wardle was equally amazed, but much more subdued after the heartbreaking loss.
“He made tough shot after tough shot,” the gracious coach said. “That’s what great players do.”
In the last 31/2 minutes Broekhoff scored 10 points. None will haunt Wardle more than the shot that turned victory into defeat.
“He lost the ball (briefly fumbled), but had the nerve to rise up and elevate over Brennan,” Wardle said. “No doubt we let this one get away. A lot a coulda, woulda, shoudas.”
Wright State presents a different mindset. The Raiders (21-11) thrive by milking each possession. Their only scorer in double figures is Cole Darling, who has missed the last five games because of an injury. He is averaging a mere 11.4 points.
In his absence, reserve Miles Dixon stepped up with a team-high 14 points, including a game-winning jumper in Saturday’s first semifinal.
“There’s never a dull moment in our league,” coach Bill Donlon said. “If you don’t bring your A game you’re going to get humbled.”
In six of their last nine games, the Raiders have limited opponents to 60 points or less. Donlon describes their style as “putting on the brakes.”
Valparaiso must counter grind-it-out basketball with patience to accelerate past the Raiders for the third time.
Behind the scenes: To run smoothly every tournament depends on dedicated workers you seldom hear about. They’re often taken for granted, but no staged basketball event could function without them.
Valparaiso University’s Cindy Eaton fits that description. In 15 years as athletic ticket manager, she’s plugged away, working long hours. None have been more meaningful than the Horizon League men’s basketball tournament, which VU has hosted for the second straight year.
“It’s been somewhat challenging,” she said between phone calls in her office at the Athletics Recreation Center. “Being a repeat it’s gone more smoothly.”
“We’re not a rookie any more.”
Before and during the tournament, Eaton toiled from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on a daily basis, including Sunday since the Crusaders barely passed their semifinal exams against Green Bay.
“Those have been our hours since we clinched,” she said.
A pre-sale of 1,000 tickets after Valparaiso bagged its second straight regular-season title lowered the stress level.
“We didn’t do that last year so that helped,” she said. So did reliable students who rolled up their sleeves during the spring break. Part-timers such as Amy Russell (Griffith), Casey Jones (Valparaiso) and Eric Moye pitched in regularly.
“I’ve been pretty lucky with them being local,” she said. “They kind of got the gist of things.”
Since Valparaiso received a double bye, local interest was minimal for Friday’s games. The Horizon League anticipated that, bumping attendance to more than 2,000 by offering a buy-one, get-one free special.
“For 10 bucks two people could watch two games and sit anywhere,” Eaton said.
Those rates didn’t apply Saturday. In the semifinals all seats were reserved, but attendance was listed at a disappointing 3,285. The toughest part of her job was waiting.
“You’ve got everything planned and you’re ready to go with the operation, but the games have to play out,” the Hammond native said.
Making adjustments on the fly is enough to keep anyone on pins and needles, but Eaton seemed calm enough.
“You have a short turnover between games, not knowing,” she said.
Valparaiso’s victory meant trying to sell 4,000 tickets in less than 72 hours for the grand finale. It’s a problem she welcomes.
“We’d like to host it every year,” said Eaton, who started working in the VU office right after the Crusaders reached the Sweet 16 in 1998.
Dealing with season ticket holders is the most enjoyable part of her job.
“You get to know them pretty well and they know me,” she said. “It’s the community relationship we have with season ticket holders.”
She considers them an extended family.