VALPARAISO | It wasn't a ho-hum kind of injury. The kind where a bag of ice and a few minutes on the bench is the healer.
It wasn't a Joe Theismann kind, either. Well, that's depending on your point of view.
But the injury to Merrillville's Darian Patton on Dec. 21 at Crown Point changed the Pirates season. For the better.
The 5-foot-9 senior guard broke her thumb scrapping for a rebound. Her father, Anthony Patton, said the doctor said it was one of the worst seen.
“The thumb came all the way out of the socket,” Anthony said.
This, though, is why this singular pain helped the Pirates get to Saturday night's Class 4A Valparaiso Regional championship game.
Patton, like her teammates, showed to perfection what it means to be a good teammate.
She missed eight games. Almost two months of the season.
But her smile and gutsy competitiveness never dissipated.
Her parents, Anthony and Erma, said not long after the initial break, Merrillville coach Amy Govert sent a text. The kind that can be put in a portfolio.
Govert summed it up. Darian showed her strength with a gentle spirit. Patton attended every practice, even with her left hand in a brace. And despite this sadness, her smile lit up the Pirate's gym.
“Her outside is shown from her inside,” Anthony said.
This devoutly Christian family, including former Merrillville athletes and brothers Bo Patton (basketball) and Devin Seaton (football), didn't stop attending church or practice. Life practice.
They never stopped believing.
In Saturday morning's 74-56 win over Lake Central in the semifinal, Patton came off the bench to score a game-high 23 points. She also had five rebounds.
In the championship game against Warsaw, Patton scored her first points of the game with 1:09 left in the game, giving the Pirates a 40-39 lead.
This tough-nosed young lady is doing all this with one hand.
In a remarkable season for Merrillville, Patton's three-quarter court shot did not go in. It's hard to make a shot when you're undercut and severe contact is made. And – no whistle.
Warsaw won 42-41.
Patton had tears streaming down her face after the game. Her impact on this team was undeniable.
Govert said they thought Patton was done for the season. But the next morning, Dec. 22, Crown Point's and Merrillville's junior varsity teams were there for games.
“Darian was the first one there,” Govert said. “She believed she was coming back. It shows her heart and what kind of young lady she is.”
The tears were still streaming 20 minutes after the game and the no call. But this young lady, and her teammates, have nothing to hang their heads about.
This was a great season. And it should've continued.
“I pray before every game,” Patton said. “I pray with my teammates. That kept me going when I was injured. It hurts to lose by one point, with this being the last game of the season. We should've played better, we could've played harder.
“My teammates encouraging me helped me come back. I just never stopped believing.”
That is something that will carry over into the future, no matter what way the whistles blow.
This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.