NEWCASTLE — Sara Hamilton didn't understand what was happening, but she shot the 3-pointer anyway.
She missed, only to shoot it again.
Then first-year Newcastle basketball coach Brett Sanders called timeout with time left on Tuesday, Dec. 17, for one final shot against conference rival Purcell before explaining his reasoning to the senior sharpshooter.
“That goal is that big and this is for your brother,” Sanders told her in the huddle, using his arms to form a hoop. “You get out there and make that shot for your brother.”
On the fourth attempt, with the Newcastle crowd on its feet cheering and crying, Hamilton made the 3-pointer before collapsing with emotion on the court.
It was an ending that resembled a Hollywood script for Hamilton, who was playing just one day after the death of her 23-year-old brother Matthew in a car wreck.
“It was the most beautiful moment,” Hamilton said. “That's like in a movie, kind of like a little Christmas story that had happened. It's something you're never going to forget.”
Hamilton and her family have since tried to rally around basketball, using the game they love to help ease the pain. They will continue to do so Friday, when the 18th-ranked Racers host No. 15 Bethany.
It hasn't been easy, although one touching moment brought a bright light to the family.
‘THE TOWN FAVORITE'
Matthew Hamilton played basketball and football at Newcastle. But he was more interested in the opposite sex than a rebound.
“Matthew is the one who didn't care about sports very much, and he was the biggest and so athletic,” Sara said. “He was too girl crazy for that.”
Either way, the small town loved the 6-foot-5 Hamilton.
“He was the town favorite because he could make you laugh,” Sara said.
And he certainly did that with Sara, his only sister among three siblings.
She still watches a video on her phone of them spending a two-hour drive to Tonkawa to visit Northern Oklahoma Junior College over the summer. The entire time they sang and screamed songs together.
So when news of his death in a single-car accident, while returning from a ski trip in New Mexico, came on Monday, Dec. 16, Sara was devastated.
“It's been hard not seeing him in the stands, because he was the one who always started the chants,” she said. “Just not hearing his voice in the stands, that's probably what is the hardest. Just knowing he's not there.”
But she found strength to play the next night, and it came from Matthew.
The night before his death, he sent Sara a lengthy text message full of encouragement following her 2-point performance against Tuttle. He missed that game but promised to be at the next one.
“I just knew he was there, and he wanted me to play,” Sara said. “The last thing we talked about was basketball.”
She wore No. 22 — Matthew's old number — instead of her usual 13. Fans wore T-shirts with “Play for Matt” printed on them.
During the entire pregame and moment of silence, she couldn't stop crying.
Sara then delivered one of the best performances of her high school career as Newcastle beat Purcell 50-37.
THE TOUCHING MOMENT
Rick Hamilton had no idea what was happening that night in Newcastle.
He and his wife Michelle were in New Mexico after the wreck. They never heard the story until that Thursday.
“It was a serene setting,” Rick said. “It's almost midnight and we had a lot of people in our home, Christmas lights were on and somebody mentioned this story to me. It was the first time I had heard of it.
“We read the story kind of in front of the Christmas tree, and I'll just tell you it was very touching.”
The moment, though, came filled with some basketball drama.
Before the game, Sanders and Purcell coach Mike Savage agreed Sara — unbeknown to her — would get the final shot if it had no bearing on the result of the game.
In the final minute, Savage clung to hope the Dragons could still get the victory. Only when it was out of reach with less than 30 seconds did he give in.
With 16 seconds remaining, Purcell inbounded the ball to Hamilton. Confused, she shot the first 3-point attempt.
Then a Purcell player rebounded the ball and passed it back to Hamilton.
This continued until just seconds remained and Sanders called the final timeout to set up the final, deep shot that finished her night, ironically, with 22 points.
“I was first floored by how tough of a kid she was,” Savage said. “To be able to play the game in those circumstances, then to be able to shoot that shot with everybody in the stands standing up and clapping and not a dry eye in the place, it was cool.”
Sara and her brother Nick later embraced at half-court after she was presented the game ball.
There wasn't a dry eye in the building.
“It was beautiful that she could do that for her brother,” Sanders said.