It ended all too soon. Or so it seems.
As the final seconds ticked away in Staples High's 71-58 loss to New Britain on Monday, closing out the first round of the LL boys basketball state tournament, the Wreckers followed through with their normal postgame routine. After gathering near their bench, heads hung low, they shook hands with the opponent before gravitating toward the locker room.
There they stayed for a few minutes, presumably for one final pep talk, before trickling out one by one.
The game, the season, were all over.
Seeded 25th, Staples needed a lot to overcome No. 8 New Britain, a team with a little more finesse and a lot more power. The Wreckers got the start they wanted, up four points in the first few minutes and even after the first quarter.
In the second quarter, they weathered a quick spurt by the Hurricanes and faced a manageable 30-27 deficit at halftime. The Wreckers, as head coach Colin Devine said afterward, "were right there with them for a majority of the game," leaving the door open for one signature run. But that run, one that would've vaulted them into the second round, never came.
"We thought we were going to make our run," Devine said. "We just came up a little short."
With forward Craven Johnson manning the paint, New Britain overpowered Staples in the second half, outscoring the Wreckers 41-31. The Hurricanes stormed ahead by as many as 21 points before seeing their commanding lead trimmed, ever so slightly.
The Wreckers, who were at one point this season 11-7, on the verge of making the FCIAC playoffs, were suddenly done.
New Britain, which fashioned an offense with five players averaging double-figures in points, possessed one too many options for Staples to stop. The Hurricanes' lead scorer, Curtis Hyman, had 18 points, while others put forth totals of 15, 14, 12 and nine points.
"All around they were pretty tough, guards to forwards," Rankowitz said. "Their big men down low were finishing everything and their guards were just as tough. That was a tough team."
New Britain was too tough, at least for one night. The Wreckers, as a result, were left with nothing more than questions of what could've been. They were left with the bittersweet taste of defeat.
"They were just a great group of kids," Devine said of his players. "They fought hard all the way to the end. I'm really proud of them."
Along the way, Devine praised his seniors.
"It just speaks volumes about the senior class led by James, Peter and Ross. They led the fight and kept going until the final buzzer," he said.
Could Staples have done more this season? It seemed as though the Wreckers were going to at one point, especially after they knocked off the FCIAC's last remaining unbeaten, Westhill, on Feb. 7. But instead of riding the momentum from that win into the conference playoffs, the Wreckers went 1-3 down the stretch in the regular season.
Win one of those and the Wreckers would've locked up a conference playoff berth. And who knows where they would've gone from there.
But instead, after one final defeat, all they were left with were bittersweet thoughts.
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