MUNSTER | It's before lunch. The fingers started dialing the number. Gary Hayes answered. The raging pulse could be felt on Friday morning.
Hayes was already pumped for his Griffith Panthers' game at Munster later that night. Not many coaches get “pumped” to play a Monster on their home court.
“I'm a competitor,” Hayes said. “I love games like this. That's why you get into this. I want to play the best and I believe my attitude about it will carry over to the kids.
“I know they're going to go over there and fight.”
A perfect image of the new and much improved Panthers took place with 2:55 left in the first quarter. Sophomore Anthony Murphy sat in the front row of the bleachers, opposite Griffith's bench.
He had just blocked a shot by Munster's Drew Hackett and the junior Mustangs' standout came down on Murphy's knee. The 6-foot-4 star in the making hopped on one leg, winced and pulled his jersey over his head.
Every trainer in the fieldhouse came over to help. He limped to the bench. Then, a spark of healing courage got him back on the floor.
Down 17-5 in the opening quarter, Murphy got a steal and a dunk in the second eight minutes where he scored seven and had four rebounds.
Yes, Munster prevailed 59-55 in a great game, which is seldom said in Northwest Crossroads Conference boys hoops.
Griffith led 43-42 in the fourth quarter. Unlike other Munster sacrificial lambs, the Panthers looked the Mustangs straight in the eye and believed they were going to win.
Impressive, to say the least.
“I knew my team needed me,” Murphy said. “I couldn't sit back. I had to give them everything I had.”
That sentiment was flowing around those in black and gold.
Flint Powell was phenomenal at guard, hitting four 3-pointers for a game-high 19. Murphy finished with 11 and seven. Twin brother Tremell Murphy scored nine with seven boards.
Hayes' coaching resume is impressive in high school and college. He was the perfect hire for one of the area's growing programs.
His junior varsity team came in 11-1 while starting four freshmen. Yes, they lost to Munster, with the little 'Stangs also 41-0 in NCC play.
But Griffith is making strides. Big ones. Murphy is already looking to next year's game at home.
“For sure, we're going to beat them next year,” he said.
There is plenty before that game. Griffith has a chance to make a run in the Class 3A Hammond Sectional. Even with mighty Bowman Academy there.
Hayes' pulse will not allow them to walk in there nervous or scared. And the character of this team doesn't mind being an underdog.
“When I took over the program last year I said the same thing over and over,” Hayes said. “We're not playing back-up basketball. We're going to get after it, play hard and use our athleticism to our advantage.
"I think our future is really bright.”