Posted: Saturday, March 9th 2013 at 3:58am
Opinion: Agony aside, Gainesville boys can take pride in finish
By Morgan Lee Editor
Gainesville's Chase England, left, looks for a lane to the basket underneath the Miller Grove defense on Friday in Macon. / photo: David Weikel
MACON -- This one will hurt, make no mistake.
And the reason it will sting is because Gainesville was tantalizingly close to doing something that no school has done since 1989-90 when Mitchell-Baker claimed football and boys basketball titles in the same school year.
When the hurt fades, however, the Red Elephants will have plenty of reason to hold their heads high after doing something no Gainesville boys team had done in 29 years in playing for a state title.
Coach Todd Cottrell said as much just minutes after Friday’s exhausting finale in which Miller Grove held on for a 61-57 win in Macon.
"The guys are disappointed but I’m extremely proud of them,” Cottrell said. “They gave it everything they had against a team no one thought they could beat.”
Like they have in so many games down the stretch this season, the Red Elephants made big plays in the clutch. Shaquan Cantrell powered his way to the rim like a man possessed; Tray Harrison attacked defenses like a whirlwind; Caleb Hayman and Chase England battled like fiends inside. The list goes on.
The only difference between Friday and those playoff games that came in the previous weeks was that Miller Grove battled just as hard and came up with just a few more extra plays en route to its fifth straight state title.
The battle of wills made for some thrilling moments on the court and one of the greatest high school basketball finals the aging innards of the Macon Centreplex has housed.
“We were close enough to taste it but you have to make plays,” Cottrell said. “They made more plays in the second half.”
It won’t be much consolation to the Red Elephants -- at least not now. But even though Gainesville won’t be able to raise its first championship banner in almost three decades, the Red Elephants will still, rightfully, look back on this season with pride.
The opportunities were certainly there for Gainesville to push over the top, but --especially inside the final minute -- all the breaks seemed to fall just the wrong way.
Trailing 57-55, Harrison ripped away a Miller Grove inbound pass and surged up-court with 55 seconds remaining... only to watch the ball slip away in the helter-skelter of the moment.
Deshaun Watson then forced another turnover with 21 seconds remaining, picking Miller Grove’s pocket while trailing 59-57 before flipping the ball to Hayman... but the senior couldn’t get the tying shot to fall under a rain of forearms.
The most gut-wrenching part for Gainesville is that the loss meant the end of the prep basketball road for nine seniors -- including standouts Cantrell, England, Harrison, Hayman, Moore and Ruff -- who each played key roles on Friday.
The group left a legacy that will not soon be forgotten and produced one of the most memorable seasons in recent memory for any area basketball squad. Entering the campaign with just one prior state playoff game under their belts, these Red Elephants rose to produce an extraordinary 15-game win streak -- overturning a 1-6 start in the process -- that included four incredible state playoff wins.
It was pure magic. And while it couldn’t last forever in action, it will live on forever in the hearts and minds of those players, students and fans that witnessed Friday’s gripping finish.
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