It’s not going to come as a startling admission that I — once the rest of the local opposition has been eliminated from consideration — am an unabashed fan of whatever team the Wabash Valley sends onward in postseason high school sports competition. So normally I would have been extremely disappointed — devastated is a little harsh, but maybe that’s close too — by Rockville’s heartbreaking 55-52 loss to Loogootee in Saturday’s Class A boys high school basketball championship game.
(Terre Haute South’s girls no doubt remember I was a little bit mad at them 10 years ago for not winning their own state championship game by more than they did, for example.)
Not Saturday, though. Not in the least.
I couldn’t be disappointed, let alone devastated, because the Rox had no business making it as close as they did. Falling 10 points behind in the first nine minutes against a team known for its delay offense, never shooting well the entire game ... that game should have been a blowout, and the only reason it wasn’t is that the Rox played as hard and as passionately as any team I’ve ever seen.
For most of the last three quarters, the Loogootee offense was looking for somebody to pass to so these little gnats would leave them alone. I’ve watched the Lions from time to time for more than 40 years, and I’ve never seen a Loogootee team look so disoriented so often. It was just a matter of whether or not the Rox could make shots — I’m kind of glad none of them attempted a dunk — to take advantage, and they came up about one shot short.
So I ended the day a lot more proud than disappointed. Eventually some of the Rox will feel the same.
“It’s disappointing we had to lose, but somebody’s got to,” Lane Mahurin said.
“It was frustrating,” Jordon McFall admitted. “We couldn’t stop [the Lions] a couple times, but we had to keep battling. I couldn’t ask for any better group of guys [to play with], especially the seniors. It sucks to have them leave.”
“It wasn’t looking good for awhile ... we didn’t want to go out the way we were starting,” said one of those seniors, Matt Wheeler, afterward, “but there can’t be any disappointment about the second half … we may have been down in the dumps, but we were never going to give up. I’m very happy with how we fought.”
“I never doubt my team,” said fellow senior Cody Jeffries.
“It was a heck of a run,” added Kyle Wheeler, Matt’s twin brother. “It’s kind of bittersweet. We knew we had to fight back and we gave everything we had, did what we could. I couldn’t be more proud of my team.”
Coach Dave Mahurin didn’t want to compare how proud he was of this particular team to others he’s coached, but he’s often admitted this is a special one. And with four starters back and some size in the ranks of the younger players, who knows if the Rox might not return to Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
That would be good in one respect, the coach said. His team was much more relaxed in its second semistate trip a week earlier than it had been a year before that.
Lane Mahurin cautioned that he and his teammates can’t think that far ahead. “The first thing we’ll be thinking about next year is our first game,” the coach’s son said.
n Well represented — Officials with Wabash Valley connections were everywhere Saturday. Gary Hamilton and Greg Hayes worked the Rockville-Loogootee game, Rick Gentry was part of the crew for the Class 2A championship and Mike Stoffers officiated the Class 3A game.
Andy Amey can be reached after 4 p.m. at (812) 231-4277 or at 1-800-783-8742; by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org; by mail at P.O. Box 149, Terre Haute, IN, 47808; or by fax at (812) 231-4321. Follow @TribStarAndy on Twitter.