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Published: Sunday, 3/21/2010

A player like Howard comes once in lifetime

COLUMBUS - This quote is one month old.

It is from the day Waite beat Start in the City League girls' basketball championship game.

I asked Natasha Howard, the Indians' star, if she had felt pressure to deliver a title in her senior season and she said, well, of course.

"I'm a once-in-a-lifetime player," Howard offered by way of explanation.

Now, it's nice when someone says something like that about an athlete. It's unusual for an athlete to say something like that about herself or himself.

I didn't use the quote for two reasons. I wrote it off to youthful exuberance. And, based on everything I'd heard from her coaches and teammates, from school and City League officials, the quote didn't match the young lady. She is anything but egotistical.

So I didn't use it.

And now I am. Because Natasha Howard, of course, is a once-in-a-lifetime player.

That didn't change last night just because Howard and her Waite teammates were unable to enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime moment.

The Tribe fell to Canton McKinley 49-47 in the Ohio Division I championship game despite a valiant second-halfeffort at Value City Arena.

A Waite team used to dishing out pressure found itself immersed in a pressure cooker. A team normally poised and unflappable kicked the ball, slapped the ball and generally dropped the ball. A team used to turning every possession into a transition sprint learned it wasn't the quickest team on the court. That was in the first half, when the Indians had 12 turnovers and managed only one steal of their own.

The second half was a different story as the 6-foot-3 Howard clogged the point of Waite's full-court, trapping zone press, blinding McKinley's much shorter guards and picking their pockets at every opportunity while helping force 14 McKinley turnovers.

Waite was down by 30-19 at halftime and by as many as 12 points late in the third quarter before Howard lifted the Indians onto her shoulders and tried to carry them home. Steal after steal, layup after layup, those in purple-and-gold at one end of the arena shrieked at every turn of event as Waite climbed all the way back to take a 47-45 lead on, of course, a steal and layup by Howard with 1:53 to play.

If the Tribe was guilty of anything from there it was not going to Howard enough, leaving her to chase the ball herself and picking up two fouls on offensive rebound attempts.

She fouled out with 23 points, 14 rebounds, eight steals, and four blocked shots.

When Shanice McNeal missed the first of two free throws with no time left on the clock, erasing any chance at overtime, Waite's journey ended one win short for a team trying to bring a first state championship in any sport to the school that is the pride of the east side.

The electricity of the second half, the deafening cheers, gave way to frowns and tears.

Natasha Howard is Ohio's Ms. Basketball, the first Toledoan ever to win the honor, and she took the state capital by storm this weekend. She and the Indians just weren't able to leave it with a championship.

That didn't change anything.

She's still that once-in-a-lifetime player.

Contact Blade sports columnist

Dave Hackenberg at:

dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398.



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