Jerry Tarkanian used to bite on a towel during his coaching days at Nevada Las Vegas, and there's a high school basketball coach with an equally intriguing custom.
Gail Hale, the girls' basketball coach for 18 years at Canyon Springs High in Moreno Valley, tightly grips a stress ball in her hand during games. She can be found bouncing the ball while walking on the sideline during pressure-filled moments.
"I've never seen anything like it," said standout guard Cheyenne Greenhouse. "She never loses it."
Hale will be taking her stress ball and team to Sacramento on Friday to play Elk Grove Pleasant Grove in the 6 p.m. Division I state championship game at Sleep Train Arena.
"It's something that keeps me calm," Hale said.
She has been using the ball for about eight years. She has never thrown it at an official or player.
"It helps keep me composed," she said.
On Saturday in the Division I regional final, she was walking on the sideline bouncing the tiny ball during the fourth quarter against Mission Hills Alemany. She was gripping the ball tightly as her team pulled away for a 66-51 victory.
"My job is easy because I have great kids," she said.
Mater Dei survives
Survive and advance. That's the saying during March Madness in college basketball, and it has become the motto for unbeaten Santa Ana Mater Dei (34-0).
In the last five weeks, the Monarchs have pulled out victories in overtime and double overtime. Saturday night, they faced a six-point deficit with less than three minutes to play against Westchester after blowing an 18-point lead in the first half.
They came back to defeat the Comets, 59-54, at Citizens Business Bank Arena to advance to Saturday's Open Division state championship game against Oakland Bishop O'Dowd in Sacramento.
Perhaps Coach Gary McKnight might want to change his halftime routines, because it seems as if the third quarter has become a troublesome time for the Monarchs, who have been struggling against trapping defenses in the second half.
With the pressure on, Rex Pflueger and Stanley Johnson made six consecutive free throws to prevent a remarkable comeback victory by a Westchester team that fell behind, 26-8, in the second quarter.
Elijah Stewart of Westchester left a lasting impression, scoring 19 points and showing why he has been the best player in the City Section from start to finish.
There was no more exciting ending than the 35-foot shot made at the buzzer that banked in from Michael Oguine of West Hills Chaminade to beat Santa Margarita, 53-52, in the Division III regional final at Ontario Colony.
"I drew it up exactly as I wanted it," Chaminade Coach Todd Wolfson joked.
After a missed Santa Margarita free throw with 4.3 seconds left, Trevor Stanback got the rebound, made the outlet pass to Oguine, who dribbled quickly to launch his game-winning shot from well beyond the top of the key. Oguine, a junior guard, scored 18 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter.
"I absolutely love that kid," Santa Margarita Coach Jeff Reinert said. "He's a classy, respectful player."
Said Oguine: "Trevor got the rebound and made a great outlet and with a couple seconds left I knew I couldn't get to the rim, so I took two dribbles and shot it. I had no idea if it was going in or not. Everything happened so fast. I didn't have time to think."