[This is my column in the March 13 issue of The Commercial Review.]
I didn’t want it to end.
I wasn’t ready to be done with basketball.
Prior to this year, I was singing a different tune, as I would always impatiently await the end of hoops season.
The end signified the start of spring sports — my favorite time of the year — was just around the corner.
But this year it’s different.
Those who have followed my basketball journey have noticed how much my take on the game has changed since November.
There was once a time when I dreaded going to games.
Now, I wish there was more.
When Jay County lost the sectional semifinal Friday to Fort Wayne South Side, the players, coaches and fans weren’t the only people disappointed.
I was too.
I wanted more basketball.
Part of the reason I was able to start to enjoy basketball was simply because of the amount of time I spent around the sport
Going to more than 40 basketball games this season — 13 alone in February — can change a man.
But the product on the court definitely played its part too.
There was no better way to start my career covering Indiana high school boys basketball than with not one but two buzzer-beaters in the same game.
Jake Schlosser nailed a 3-pointer at the end of regulation to send the game into overtime against Lakewood Park Christian. Minutes later, Zach Fullenkamp sank a put-back shot after a miss by Nick Clemens as time ran out to give the Patriots the two-point victory.
And, there was a double-overtime thriller a week later too, but the outcome wasn’t as favorable.
Entering the season, there wasn’t much hope surrounding this year’s team, given the fact it had graduated long-time starters Tyler Back, Kegan Comer, Scott Schwieterman and all-time scoring leader Brock McFarland.
Not many people outside of the locker room expected them to get a double-digit win total, let alone have a winning season.
But they did.
They went 13-8, including five straight road wins to close out their 13th consecutive winning season under coach Craig Teagle.
And they did it with defense.
For a program that is a perennial top-10 in defensive average this year was no different. The Patriots allowed 42.1 points per game, which was top in Class 4A and third overall in the state.
They may have struggled at times with faster, more athletic teams, but they still found a way to keep it close.
A prime example of the Patriots’ grittiness came Jan. 11 against Richmond, which will play in the Class 4A regional semifinal this weekend against Indianapolis Tech.
The Patriots overcame a 15-point deficit against the Red Devils to get within one in the final minute before falling 49-42.
Because this was my first season watching Jay County Patriot basketball, I cannot compare this year’s team to the past. But I will trust Teagle when he said this was one of the best defensive groups he’s ever coached.
“We’re pretty good defensively,” he said following the Patriots’ regular-season finale Feb. 28 against Bellmont. “As far as our principles, this is as good as a group as I’ve ever had.”
Friday, it appeared as if Jay County was going to cruise to an appearance in the sectional title game when it led by 13 points midway through the third quarter.
South Side came back, taking a five-point lead in the final minute, but Teagle and the Patriots didn’t give up.
The game came down to the final play. And as I was perched on the baseline under the hoop where the controversial play occurred, I would have been on the edge of my seat — had I been in one.
It was an exciting, down-to-the-wire game.
Games like those and the two to start the season are what have helped change my perspective on the game of basketball.
But spending copious amounts of time with the team was also a catalyst in leaving me wanting more. Some days, to kill time, I’d go watch practice, not only to help me better understand the game but to also chat with the team.
It gave me an opportunity to connect with them and get on a more personal level with the players, which makes seeing their season end prematurely nearly as disappointing for me as it was for them.
It’s tough seeing seasons end the way the year did for the Patriots.
And just like them, I wanted at least one more game.