Five hours before his players were to participate in the most important game of their high school career, DeSales boys basketball coach Pat Murphy had to tell them that their season was on hold, if not finished.
The Stallions were to play New Philadelphia in a Division II regional semifinal March 12 at Ohio University. But earlier that day, OHSAA executive director Jerry Snodgrass announced that all remaining winter tournaments were postponed indefinitely because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
On March 26, the OHSAA canceled those tournaments, bringing an end to a season in which DeSales went 19-6 overall and fell just short of the CCL championship but won its first district title since 2016.
"None of us have ever dealt with anything like this before. I'm so sad for our seniors -- for everyone really, but especially for our seniors because this (happened)," Murphy said. "I know basketball is a very small thing in the grand scheme, especially now, and it was the right decision. I'm sad, but I completely understand. I don't envy (the OHSAA's) position. There were a lot of emotions from the guys. It's devastating."
Led by junior forward Desmond Watson, the district Player of the Year and a first-team all-state honoree who averaged 22.7 points, 6.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.8 steals, the Stallions overcame a rough finish to the regular season to knock off the top two seeds in the district tournament.
Third-seeded DeSales beat second-seeded and previously undefeated Heath 63-53 in a district semifinal March 4 at Bloom-Carroll and erased an early deficit three days later against top-seeded Jonathan Alder to outlast the Pioneers 32-30 in overtime in a district final at Central Crossing.
DeSales lost three of four games in late January and early February, including its final two CCL contests, to finish 6-2 in the league, one game behind champion St. Charles (7-1).
Watson had six games with 30 or more points this season, including 32 against Heath and 39 in the season opener Nov. 30 against Huber Heights Wayne in the All-Ohio High School Hoop Showcase at Gahanna, and closed his junior year with 1,084 career points.
Watson, who is the program's fifth first-team all-state honoree and first since Nick Kellogg in 2010, scored his 1,000th career point early in a 66-53 win at Worthington Kilbourne on Feb. 18.
Senior guard Kobe Righter, a John Carroll recruit who averaged 12.4 points and was named first-team all-league and third-team all-district, said the team ended the season on a high note in at least one respect.
"That (district final) was one of the most electric games I've ever been a part of," Righter said. "From the start of the season, we were pretty optimistic about what we could do. I don't know if we thought we'd do this well and we did struggle, but we accomplished a lot. We made a goal list for ourselves (before the season) and we wanted to win the league, win district and state.
"We didn't win our league, but we did win district. We think we put together a good run."
DeSales was seeking its first state tournament appearance since 2009 and fifth overall. The Stallions also reached state in 1987 -- when they won their only champ-ionship -- as well as in 2006 and 2007.
Junior guard Austin Mann averaged 10.6 points to earn second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district honors.
Others eligible to return include juniors Obed Achirem (forward) and Noah Garrick (guard) and sophomores Cruz Sanchez (center/forward) and Atticus Schuler (forward).
"You have good players, you win big games," Murphy said during the district tournament. "These guys got it done like they had all year."
Potts ends strong wrestling career
Senior heavyweight Cole Potts of the wrestling team did not get a chance to improve on last year's fourth-place finish in the Division II state tournament, which had been scheduled for March 13-15 at Ohio State, but the James Madison football recruit still finished his high school career with a 137-37 record.
Potts won the sectional championship Feb. 29 at Licking Valley and finished third at district seven days later at Wilmington to cap a 38-3 season. That matched his number of wins from his junior season, when he finished 38-5.
Potts went 43-12 as a sophomore.
Also among DeSales' four seniors is Josh Morse, a district qualifier at 132 pounds who finished 20-13.
The team's third district qualifier is eligible to return in freshman Owen Eagan, who was fifth at sectional but earned a district spot as an alternate and finished 31-13.
Other underclassmen expected back for the Stallions include sophomores Evan Campbell (138), Braden Jehn (170) and Nate Siegrist (160) and freshmen Seamus Bonte (145), Marshall Froehlich (152) and Rebekah Oladokun (145).
Oladokun placed sixth at 143 in the inaugural girls state tournament held Feb. 22 and 23 at Hilliard Davidson.
DeSales went 1-3 in the CCL to finish fourth behind champion Hartley (4-0).