Chaz Morrish, the lone senior in St. Mary's starting five, was the last to be pulled from the game. When he was replaced with 52.3 seconds remaining, he walked to the sideline, took a seat at the end of the bench and watched as the final seconds of his tenure and the Gaels' turnaround season wound down.
Coming off last season's 8-16 record, the Gaels managed to overcome their lack of size by playing up-tempo en route to an improbable CHSAA championship. But in yesterday's, 67-49, loss to Nichols School (Buffalo) at Adelphi in the state semifinal game, the Gaels finally encountered one mountain that, even with their speed, they were unable to climb.
The 6-8, Virginia-bound Will Regan, and his five-inch height advantage, tormented the Gaels on both sides of the court. St. Mary's was unable to keep him off the offensive glass and couldn't contain him in the low post early on as he scored 14 of his 16 points in the first half.
'The big kid, Regan, when he caught the ball inside, he sealed us off," Gaels coach Bill Harkins said. "We did a good job defending on the perimeter, it was when the ball got low that we were in trouble. We also didn't shoot the ball the way we usually do."
It was in large part because of Regan. The Gaels had trouble penetrating Nichols' interior defense and were forced to settle for perimeter jumpers.
After scoring just 16 first-half points, those jumpers didn't start to fall until the second half with St. Mary's already trailing by 17. Morrish hit a pair of threes, the second rattling in with 2:57 left in the third to cap off a 13-4 run to pull St. Mary's within single digits.
The Gaels managed to keep the deficit around 10 until midway through the fourth quarter when Nichols' Ron Canestro caught an inbound pass and made a corner three. On the next possession, Stan Wier cut through the lane, dribbled behind his back, and hit a running one-handed shot plus the foul for a three-point play with 4:47 left to open a 16-point lead that would only grow.
Morrish finished with 16 points, including four second-half three-pointers, and Chavaughn Lewis added 14 points and eight assists.
"I felt we could have made it a little further," Morrish said. "I wish I had another year."
With four starters returning, St. Mary's should be primed for another title run next season.
"We've got work to do in the offseason," Harkins said. "When you get a taste of what it's like to be here, hard work will bring you right back . . . But what we were able to do was get St. Mary's back to being a winning basketball program. Everyone expects it and these guys brought it back. The program has turned the page."