With safety pins in his pant leg and bouts of dizziness, South Suburban head coach John Pigatti tried to keep it together as he coached his team Wednesday through its game at the national championship.
“Defense. Defense.” The South Suburban players on the bench tried to encourage their teammates on the floor. But the chants weren’t enough.
“That was the worst performance that we had all year, and we just picked a bad time to have it,” Pigatti said afterward.
The men from South Holland then had to decide how they were going to bounce back after their upsetting loss in the National Junior College Athletic Association Men’s Division II Basketball Tournament to Fort Scott Community College. Pigatti told his team, “It’s about you.”
Perhaps the team heard his message as South Suburban would post two wins, both nail-biters, the second a 97-96 victory in overtime. Today the Bulldogs will play at noon against the St. Louis Community College Archers for the consolation championship.
The path to and through the championship tournament could best be described as a rocky road for the South Suburban team and its head coach.
Early in the week, things weren’t going Pigatti’s way. He lost his cell phone. The VCR in his hotel room wasn’t working. But he couldn’t sweat the small stuff. After all, he couldn’t afford to.
Off the court
Rewind two and a half months ago. The Bulldogs were No. 1 in the country, Pigatti said. Then Jan. 3, Coach P experienced a mini stroke that put him to the hospital for four days. He spent two more weeks at home.
“It was tough at first when we found out he had a stroke,” said Antonio Levy, the team’s leading scorer. Levy said they found out from the assistant coaches the morning of a game.