Her shoe was untied.

Seven points.  With 61 seconds to play they were up seven points.  That was a sure victory!

She had waited for a moment like this her whole entire life dating all the way back to summer league with the boys when she was about to start grade school.

Protect the lead, dribble out the clock, make your free throws and celebrate the win!  That was how that script was written.  But she had gone off-script and so had the result.

First a turnover at half-court and a breakaway layup for them that burned all of four seconds off the clock.  The seven point lead was down to five with just under a minute to play.  What was she thinking trying a cross-over with her opponent already shading to her right?  Maybe thinking wasn’t actually the culprit here.  Maybe showboating was to blame.

That turnover was followed by an ill-advised three point attempt early in the next possession that left her hands and landed out of bounds under the basket about two seconds later having never made contact with anything else.   Airball.  She could feel Coach JJ glaring but didn’t dare look over at the bench for fear she would cry right then and there.

She knew she could redeem herself with a steal and a layup as their point guard brought the ball up.  She shadowed the girl and the two zigzagged up the court.   Earlier in the game, she had overplayed on purpose – teasing the other guard into changing direction – and then quickly closed to swipe the ball right out of her hands leaving her opponent staggering at midcourt while she raced in for an uncontested layup.   That trick worked so well before, maybe it was time she tried it again.

But this time, the older, more experienced opponent felt it coming and just spun the opposite way and blew right past her.  This other point guard was the high scorer for her team so she had the green light to launch at will.  And launch she did knocking down a three pointer that ripped the net and hearts simultaneously.

Now it was a two-point game with more than half a minute to play.  All the oxygen had been sucked out of the gym.  She couldn’t breathe and dried saliva had sealed her mouth shut.  Her legs were stiffening and her hands felt numb.  Her heart was pounding.  Was this a heart attack?  Is this what a heart attack feels like, she wondered?  Maybe she was having a heart attack. The thought gladdened her because it would be the only plausible explanation for her late-game collapse.

She took the throw in and was immediately fouled.  She just needed to step to the line and nail these free-throws  with the game and her reputation at stake.  Yeah, no pressure there.

With both teams appropriately assembled, the ref handed her the ball which by now, weighed almost as much as a cinder block.  She tried to give it the three spins in her hand which was her free throw ritual but her hands were tacky and the ball screeched to a premature halt each time.   After the third abbreviated spin, she took one dribble, aimed and launched.  But unlike the 19 out of 20 times during pregame, this one missed the mark.  WHAT?

She stepped back and tried to collect herself but that tiny leak in the dam was now a gaping hole.  Confidence drained out and fear claimed that space.   Her knees were knocking.  She stepped back to the line and looked down.

Her shoe was untied.