By MATT SCHUCKMAN
Herald-Whig Sports Editor
It turned out to be a good thing Ashton Luttrull had classes to keep her somewhat distracted.
Otherwise, her nerves may have gotten the best of her.
Last Tuesday, with the Highland girls basketball team playing its final home game against Clark County, Luttrull knew she'd step on the floor for the first and only time this season.
"I thought about it all day," Luttrull said. "I was nervous the whole day. One shot for the whole season."
An all-state guard and Southeast Missouri State recruit, Luttrull missed her senior season after tearing the ACL, MCL and meniscus in her right knee.
Healthy enough to walk on the court and shoot, Luttrull and Highland coach Brad Dance worked out a scenario where she would start the final home, get the chance to pass or shoot and then leave hopefully to the applause of an appreciative crowd.
Perfect plans sometimes go awry.
Highland won the opening tip but fumbled the ball away, forcing Luttrull and the Cougars to play defense.
Unable to move laterally and told not to do anything where she might injure herself, Luttrull stood at the high post and gingerly put up some resistance.
However, what was she supposed to do when the rebound of Clark County's initial miss caromed right to her?
"I didn't want to go get it," Luttrull said. "The ball kind of came to me. I couldn't just run away from it."
Nor could she avoid the little contact that came with the play and made everyone nervous.
"My dad took a video and you could tell his hand was shaking because he was nervous," Luttrull said.
Now in possession, Luttrull dribbled into the frontcourt and set up the offense without a plan in place.
"We really didn't know what to do," Luttrull said. "Clark County was in a man-to-man defense, and I didn't know whether I should run a play or shoot."
It was the oddest feeling she had ever experienced.
"It was the first time I've had a basketball in my hands in high school and did not know what to do with it," Luttrull said.
Her options were simple.
She could pass to her younger sister, Sydney, in hopes she could get the assist. It was the most appealing option since the two had dreamed of playing one year together before Ashton's injury ruined that notion.
She could pass to another teammate and get everything started.
Or she could shoot.
When the Clark County defense sagged off her, Luttrull knew which option would be best.
From the top of the key, about 22 feet away, Luttrull launched a 3-pointer that found nothing but net.
An official's inadvertent whistle stopped the play immediately afterward, and Dance had a player at the scorer's table ready to check in for Luttrull as the crowd roared.
The coach and player exchanged a high-five as she came off the floor for the final time in an historic career.
"It was pretty emotional," Dance said. "It was good for her to experience that. She'll remember that."
The image of that shot going down is indelible.
"I was more schocked than anything at first," Luttrull said. "The whole thing was kind of like in slow motion."
Although the moment felt surreal, the emotions were genuine.
"I'm really surprised I held myself together," Luttrull said.
She's had time to learn to do that.
The injury happened in late July and the recovery process has taken longer than expected.
"It's a slow process," Luttrull sad. "I was hoping it wouldn't take this long. There was a lot more wrong with it once they got in there during surgery."
At that point, a 90-minute procedure turned into a more than three-hour operation and the hope Luttrull had to return before the season ended was lost.
Her flare for the dramatic wasn't.
Luttrull wasn't the first injured player to be treated to a courtesy shot. However, how many of those can say they were the difference in the end?
Well, Luttrull can. Highland won by five points to give the Cougars something to celebrate in what has been an otherwise turbulent season.
Luttrull had one shot to do that.
One shot for the whole season.
And no one better to take it.