It's hard to imagine a buzzer-beater being connected to a 16-point basketball victory. Then again, it's hard to imagine the night Southwest Minnesota State men's basketball coach Brad Bigler had on Saturday.
With his wife, Heather, less than two weeks away from the due date for the couple's third child, Bigler had a choice this past weekend: take the team bus for a pair of games at Concordia (St. Paul) and St. Cloud State or stay home. A checkup with their doctor Friday morning revealed no changes in Heather's status.
"I thought, 'I should be OK,' " Bigler said.
Fast-forward to around 7 p.m. Saturday -- halftime of the game in St. Cloud -- when Heather, two hours away in Marshall, started having contractions. By the time the game was over, with the Division II Mustangs having secured their fourth consecutive victory and first over a top-25 team in nearly two years, Heather was on her way to the hospital. And Bigler, along with five in-laws (siblings and parents) who were at the game, piled into a truck and started speeding back home. When Heather had Nash, 2 -- now the middle child of three along with Taleigha, 3, and newborn Drake -- she was only at the hospital for about two hours before delivery.
"We were pretty concerned we weren't going to make it back in time," Bigler said. "I was sitting in the back seat. I get motion sickness, so I was just trying to relax."
That became harder when, about 45 minutes outside of Marshall, the vehicle was pulled over for speeding.
"Before [the police officer] could even read the license from my father-in-law, my sisters-in-law are yelling, 'We're having a baby! We're having a baby!' " Bigler said. "The cop looks up and says, 'Right now? Who's having a baby?' "
With the story straight, the officer ushered the crew on its way. They arrived at the hospital at 10 p.m. -- around the same time as Dr. Jill Vroman, the team doctor who was also in St. Cloud for the game before rushing back on the same path.
"She still had her Southwest Minnesota T-shirt on. She said, 'Good game,' and then Heather's water broke pretty much right there," Bigler said. "About 10 minutes later, at 10:18, the baby was born."
It was a happy ending to an emotionally charged night -- and a peak of what Bigler called a "roller coaster" of recent emotions. Bigler's mother, Diane Bigler-Hagenow, died last summer in a kayaking accident at which Brad was also present. Bigler, an Iowa native who was a player and assistant coach at SMSU before taking over the program in 2009, has pulled through with community support.
"I've been pretty blessed to be around a lot of good people," he said. "Southwest has been very kind to me."
With Heather -- a former SMSU volleyball player -- and Drake home from the hospital Monday, Bigler can turn his attention to the home stretch and his team's drive to reach the NCAA tournament. That's a different kind of berth and only the second-most important one he might witness this year.