As was the case the other four times it reached the state tournament, the Harvest Preparatory School boys basketball team didn't return home from this year's event with the championship trophy.
The process of finishing 28-1 overall and advancing to a Division III state semifinal, however, wasn't without its rewards, according to coach David Dennis.
"Our bond was priceless," Dennis said. "They're so tight as a group. The work ethic we put in over the summer, the hunger for wanting to win, they were coachable ... it hurts, but 28-1 is pretty good. We beat some very good teams. We hope our young men built some character and hopefully they can sit back in a day or so and say they had a good run and had some memories they can cherish. At this moment, I'm really proud of my boys."
The Warriors, who were ranked first in the final state poll, weren't surprised to find themselves entrenched in a tight game against Africentric in a state semifinal March 22 at Ohio State.
Also not surprising to Dennis is that what ended up being a 54-52 loss came down to a last-second shot opportunity.
After the Nubians went ahead 54-52 with 1 minute, 58 seconds left, the Warriors had three chances to either tie the score or make the game-winning shot but missed on each opportunity.
The final chance came with 4.2 seconds remaining, but junior guard Soul Hines' 3-point attempt bounced off the back of the rim as Africentric held on to reach the state final, where the Nubians lost to Cincinnati Deer Park 67-57 on March 24 to finish 22-7.
"The last one was a set play," Dennis said. "Obviously, Soul was hot in the fourth quarter so we tried to set a double screen for him. We got the shot that we wanted considering how hot he was and, from our angle, it looked good. I was hoping it would go in, but sometimes the bounces don't go our way. We were going for the win, and that's what I stressed, was that the play definitely worked but we just missed it."
Harvest Prep scored the game's first seven points but trailed 32-28 at halftime and fell behind 41-32 with 4:19 left in the third quarter on a 3-pointer by Africentric's Calijha'won Davis.
Hines made a 3-pointer with 7:33 remaining to cut the deficit to 44-41, and he hit another a 3-pointer with 2:46 to go to tie the score at 52.
"It's what everyone expected and what we expected," Dennis said. "It was two well-coached teams fighting hard. We didn't fold. We didn't give up. We fought back and still made some 3s to put us in position with the ball to win. I'm so proud of my kids and my coaching staff. They grinded it out to try not to let the season end."
The top-seeded Warriors opened the district tournament with wins over 25th-seeded Columbus International (101-36 on Feb. 26), 24th-seeded Madison Plains (70-21 on March 3) and eighth-seeded Marion Pleasant (71-49 on March 6 at Olentangy Orange) before beating third-seeded Ready 64-48 in a district final March 9.
Harvest Prep then beat Wheelersburg 78-60 in a regional semifinal March 14 at Ohio University and Sugarcreek Garaway 59-53 in overtime in the regional final March 17 at OU to advance to state.
The Warriors won the MSL-Cardinal Division title, going 14-0 to finish ahead of Wellington (12-2), Fisher Catholic (9-5), Zanesville Rosecrans (6-8), Berne Union and Grove City Christian (both 5-9), Fairfield Christian (4-10) and Millersport (1-13).
Harvest Prep is losing four seniors, led by forward C.J. Penha, a Taylor University signee who averaged 19.5 points and was named first-team all-district and second-team all-state, and forward Isaiah Cumberland, who played 18 minutes off the bench in the state semifinal and contributed four rebounds and two blocked shots.
Sophomore guard C.J. Anthony, who averaged 20 points and was first-team all-district and all-state, and Hines, who finished with 13 points in the state semifinal, are expected to be the top returnees next season.
Junior guard Brandon Beavers and junior forward Elijah Glenn also started in the state semifinal.
Others eligible to return include juniors Bryce Beavers (guard), Jamaree Doe (forward), Avonti Duncan (guard), Raymond Robertson (forward), Ralph Robinson (guard) and Andrew Tate (forward).
"Every day we came into the gym and we all knew what we wanted to do," Anthony said. "We all put the work in to make this happen. Every day we came in ready to work and get the job done."
@UlreyThisWeekAt a glance
*Record: 28-1 overall, 14-0 (first) in MSL-Cardinal
*Seniors lost: Isaiah Cumberland, Daniel Nyarko, C.J. Penha and Sean Peterson
*Key returnees: C.J. Anthony, Brandon Beavers, Avonti Duncan, Elijah Glenn, Soul Hines and Ralph Robinson