By SCOTT JACKSON
Courier sports writer
---- — HUTCHINSON, Kan. — It was one of the longest days in NJCAA National Tournament history.
From a 10 a.m. tipoff between State Fair and No. 14 Shelton State to the final buzzer that sounded between No. 8 Trinity Valley and No. 6 Northeastern shortly after midnight. Six games of high-pressure junior college basketball wore on over 14-plus hours on Tuesday at the Hutchinson Sports Arena.
The day took a physical toll on everyone involved. From all the fans that piled into the arena for a drama-soaked day to the tournament officials that tirelessly kept the tournament rolling along. There were also the players and coaches of all 12 teams that gave everything they had in pursuit of a national title.
No one, however, paid a bigger physical price than Indian Hills sophomore Roderick Bobbitt. With his team seconds away from elimination in Tuesday’s second-round battle with No. 18 New Mexico Junior College, Bobbitt joined fellow Warrior sophomore Lester Medford in crashing the glass to keep a basket that would keep IHCC alive.
Medford got the opportunity, getting fouled on a second-chance opportunity that led to a pair of game-tying free throws with 3.5 seconds left. Bobbitt got the brunt of the contact, leading to a broken arm and surgery that has ended the sophomore's two-season, three-year odyssey as an Indian Hills basketball player.
“Rod knew it as soon as it happened,” Indian Hills head coach Barret Peery said. “As soon as it happened, he told us ‘I’m in trouble.’”
So now what? What do the top-ranked Warrior do with one of their top stars and unquestioned leaders out of action for the remainder of the national tournament?
It’s a simple answer. One Peery’s squad has developed into a season-long motto.
“We’re ready to just keep on moving on and keep on playing,” sophomore Roosevelt Scott said. “We won’t stop.”
IHCC practiced on Wednesday, its second off day of the national tournament, in preparation for Thursday afternoon’s national quarterfinal clash with fifth-ranked South Plains. The 2011 national champs looked impressive in earning their second win in as many days with a 75-65 triumph over Texas rival Paris on Tuesday just a couple hours after the Warriors survived New Mexico in double overtime 102-94.
Besides needing to prepare to be at their best for a quality opponent, IHCC players and coaches needed Wednesday to regroup after a physically and emotionally draining win in its tournament opener.
“There was a little bit of a downside to how we felt when we woke up (Wednesday) morning,” Peery said. “We’re going to bounce through it. Rod was certainly a big piece to our team, but as we told the guys it’s Indian Hills that’s playing, so we got to go and play for Indian Hills.”
It is without question that without Bobbitt, IHCC would not be preparing for a national quarterfinal contest on Wednesday. Even without playing in either overtime period, Bobbitt led the Warriors with 26 points against New Mexico Junior College and had three-straight 3-pointers to begin a second half charge after the Thunderbirds opened up a 16-point second half lead.
Besides his play on Tuesday, Bobbitt’s play throughout his sophomore season is a main reason why the Warriors are even a part of the 24-team national tournament field.
“It’s always tough losing a brother like Rod,” sophomore Marcus Posley said. “He’s a leader. He’s the captain of our team. He’s one of the most experienced guys we have. He’s been a part of this tournament before. We relied on Rod for a lot of things.”
Nobody will miss Bobbitt more than Peery, who has coached the California native on a pair of national tournament teams. Tuesday was truly a day of mixed emotions for the third year head coach of the Warriors.
“He and I have been a part of over 70 games together. Somebody told me we’re 66-5 when he’s in our uniform,” Peery said. “We definitely shared some tears (Tuesday) night. He and I have been through a lot together. It breaks my heart to see him not be able to play.”
The positive news is that the outpatient surgery will allow for Bobbitt to return to his team’s side for the remainder of the national tournament. While he can no longer suit up, Bobbitt will be on the sidelines to lend all the moral support he can to his Indian Hills basketball family just three wins away from accomplishing a national championship dream.
“We’re going to help get Rod through this and we’re going to have him there cheering for us,” Peery said. “He’ll be a big part of our motivation throughout the rest of this tournament. They’ll want to win for him. They’ll want to treat it like nothing ever happened.”
Rod’s in our prayers. We want the best for him. He wants the best for us,” Posley added. “Unfortunately, he can’t move forward on the court with us, but I know he wants us to keep playing Warrior basketball and do what we do best.”
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