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John Carroll girls basketball beats C. Milton Wright, 50-22, following lengthy injury delay

Mary Buyse gathered her team behind the bench after the postgame handshake line to take a moment and debrief. Concern boldly painted each of their faces. But the C. Milton Wright coach told her team how firmly proud she was of the way they handled a tough and scary situation.

With less than two minutes left before halftime, a Mustangs girls basketball player suffered an apparent neck injury on a fall and was eventually taken out on a stretcher and transported to a local hospital. The player appeared to be moving her legs but no update on the severity of the injury was immediately available after the game.

The sudden, accidental play left a solemn hush throughout the gym.

Buyse deliberated with John Carroll coach Jim Stromberg, officials and athletic directors about next steps. The near consensus in the huddle was that it would be OK to cancel. Tuesday night was an inconsequential matchup between nonconference foes and at that point, looking like a runaway for the Patriots. But the onus falls on C. Milton Wright for the decision.

Buyse was comfortable with canceling at first but interjected, “Let me talk to my girls, though.”

The first-year coach went back to her team seeking input. “[She’d] kill us if we didn’t finish this game,” they said. “We’re finishing the game for [her].” Buyse was proud to watch her team rally around the player, finishing the second half with hearts heavy with concern.

John Carroll led 24-11 at the break in play and went on to win handily, 50-22. But it was clear, as both coaches admitted, the game felt inherently different following the 45-minute delay.

The first half beamed with intensity. The Patriots drove an up-tempo style while C. Milton Wright’s defensive effort kept the Mustangs within striking distance against one of their toughest scheduled opponents. Come the second half, cheers from the benches rung louder. Players were quicker to lift up teammates. Each C. Milton Wright point felt more meaningful.

It’s a tough ask in any sport for a team, mentally, to return to ready-to-play form after that sort of incident.

One official warned Buyse of ensuring her team didn’t return with any sort of vengeance. She was taken aback by the notion.

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“These girls aren’t like that,” Buyse said. “They’re friends with half the girls on that team. We know it was an accident. We have good sportsmanship; we’re gonna remain loyal to the game of basketball. Let’s finish the basketball game and we’ll play for her.”

John Carroll sophomore Pieper McCue led all scorers with 19 points. Kalissa Coats added nine. For the Mustangs, Sam Wolfkill had a team-best eight points and Emma Jankowiak contributed six.

After the injury-initiated break that sent both teams to their respective locker rooms, then a five minute warmup period before getting back to the action, the game leaned purely on the fun of the sport.

“Afterward, you’re just playing to play,” Stromberg said. “Whatever happens [on the court], happens.”

“You saw the intensity leave the gym,” Buyse said. “They were the better team tonight by far. We did what we could. But I think our girls were out there enjoying playing basketball for their teammate.”