CHARLESTON – It wasn’t supposed to end this way. But sometimes these things happen.
Nevertheless, the Washington boys basketball program had a helluva season, one for the ages and one that won’t soon be forgotten. It will be tough to cast aside what has been clear domination for much of the past four months.
The Patriots saw their season abruptly grind to a halt Friday against Huntington, as Washington shot uncharacteristically poorly in a 66-57 loss in the state triple-A semifinals at the Charleston Civic Center.
A team that had hitherto rolled through its season a perfect 25-0 never seemed to be in sync or able to generate the magic its fans had seemingly come to take for granted. Every time the Patriots appeared to be getting the upper hand, the eventual state champion Highlanders responded to swat down any attempt by Washington to gain momentum.
But one bad game, though undoubtedly coming at the worst possible time, doesn’t make a season. And what a season it was.
For three months, Washington ran the gauntlet wearing a bull’s-eye on its back, taking everyone’s best shot and never wavering from its distinction as preseason No. 1 in the state in Class AAA.
Led by seniors Dominique Newman, Kendell Smith, Maleke Jones, Jerome Jones and Josh Dudley, the Patriots cruised to an unblemished 21-0 regular season record. Washington followed that up with four consecutive postseason victories, including the program’s first sectional and regional championships in school history.
But this team will be remembered as much for its ability to rack up those “Ws” as it is for the pizzazz and relative ease with which they did it. Day after day, the Patriots dazzled even basketball purists with a combination of overwhelming speed in transition, smothering defense and deadly accurate shooting from the outside.
They scored 100 or more points four times this season while only twice being held to fewer than 69. The Patriots outscored their opponents by an average of 30 points per game.
In the postgame press conference Friday, head coach Don Bullett choked back tears as he declared his affection for his players, a gesture reciprocated aloud by Newman, who sat flanked by Dudley and Jerome Jones behind microphones at a table inside the media room in the Civic Center.
It was tough to witness firsthand those moments as it was sinking in with the members of this program that a team with so much potential wouldn’t be celebrating a state championship the following evening. You couldn’t help but feel for them as they reflected on their final high school basketball game after giving years of blood and sweat and coming oh so close.
For a team embraced by its school and local community as much as Washington has been this winter, the pain from a stinging defeat in the semifinals will most certainly ease with the passage of time.
These players will go on to other things, college, careers and raising families of their own. But the memories from this season, though cut short yet still outstanding, will last a lifetime. This was an exceptional accomplishment and all involved should stand proud.
Well done, guys.