DENVER - His team was getting blasted. For the second time in one afternoon!
How grim was the outlook for the Colorado Springs Christian girls in a Class 3A state quarterfinal on Thursday? Grim enough, dreary enough, this-is-over enough that coach Mark Engesser was rehearsing his locker room speech on the sideline during the game. Seriously, this is what Engesser was thinking as CSCS trailed 31-23 after three quarters against Manitou Springs inside DU's Hamilton Gymnasium: "I was preparing what I was going to say to the girls," he said. "I was going to say, 'Great season. It's hard to beat a team three times.'"
And then March happened - to the same school, in the same gym, for the second time in one afternoon!
The CSCS girls came back to beat Manitou Springs, 38-32. They did it with defense, limiting Manitou to one point in the fourth quarter and overtime. They overcame a nine-point deficit.
That came after the CSCS boys - also coached by Engesser - came back to beat Denver Science & Tech Stapleton, 57-53. They did it with defense. They overcame a 13-point deficit.
What's in the water at CSCS?
"Nobody thought we could do it," junior guard Katie Hildenbrand said.
I sure didn't. For most of the girls game, the Lions hit the bottom of the backboard as often as the bottom of the net. They made lazy passes, played scared and looked like a team that figured the third time playing Manitou Springs would end up like the first two, with a victory.
"I'm worried about playing a team like Manitou three times," Engesser told me earlier this week.
I'm worried the boys (23-2) and girls (23-2) teams from CSCS are going to give their parents gray hair.
Once, OK. You can see once. You can see the boys coming back from a 30-17 deficit to advance into a state semifinal on Friday. Weird, wild stuff happens this time of year, and Denver Science & Tech Stapleton plays with the type of up-tempo, frantic pace that makes comebacks a possibility.
But twice? From the same school? In the same afternoon? In the same gym?
"Yeah, there was a point there when it didn't look very good," boys guard Justin Engesser said. "But we kept believing. We didn't give up. We knew if we played defense we could win."
Mark is Megan (the girls' leading scorer with 13 points) and Justin's (the boys' leading scorer with 27 points) dad, if you didn't know. Mark is an active-duty Air Force officer who doesn't have hair, so don't worry about him.
"I didn't see that coming," he said afterward of the comebacks.
What he does have is a pair of teams that weren't ready to go home yet.
"This has just been a really fun team to be with every day," Hildenbrand said.
Let's talk about her for a minute. Katie didn't score much. She had three points. But Katie is the biggest reason the CSCS girls are still playing. To counter Manitou Springs (22-3) senior Shelby Megyeri - one of the best players in the state, a swift guard who will play her college ball at CSU-Pueblo - Hildenbrand was assigned to be the "one" in a diamond-and-one defense. What's it like to shadow Megyeri around a basketball court for 24 minutes?
"She's such a great player," Hildenbrand said. "But that's my job, to guard the best player."
Megyeri holds most of Manitou's basketball records. She's legit, the focal point of every team's gameplan, and CSU-Pueblo won't lack for intensity once she arrives on campus.
The Lions held Megyeri to four points. Ariana Olson led the Mustangs with 10 points.
"We were afraid of playing 'man' on Megyeri," Mark Engesser said.
During the 42-minute gap between the CSCS boys and girls games in the opening round of the state tournament, Engesser, the coach, munched a package of peanuts. If they keep this up - winning in ridiculous, improbable comebacks - he's going to need something stronger.
What he doesn't need, yet, is a locker room speech. Both prides of Lions are moving on.