WAVERLY – One of the realities of tournament time in basketball is that there will be heartbreaking games.
Regardless of division, game location, or school, someone will be a part of a game that has a tough ending to take.
Unfortunately for the Portsmouth Trojans, such was the case in their game against Lynchburg-Clay as they fell 47-42.
You often hear the phrase “they played their hearts out” when it comes to sports, and that admittedly is an overused saying.
However, on a team like Portsmouth with six seniors on the roster, the Trojans visibly gave it their all in what was a hard-fought contest.
The Mustangs got a big lift from Eric McLaughlin, who finished the night with a game-high 23 points.
“I expected our kids to play hard, they play hard every night out,” Portsmouth head coach Gene Collins said. “The bottom line was McLaughlin was too much for us to handle, he hit big shots. We had some chances there with about two minutes to go and we just couldn’t get over the hump.”
“We give Lynchburg all the credit for having a great game. We gave it all we could give.”
The Trojans were outscored in each of the first three quarters. It seemed as though every time Portsmouth went on a run, the Mustangs had the perfect counter for them.
Early on, it was the Trojans who looked like they were going to take control.
After Lynchburg-Clay opened with a three from McLaughlin, Portsmouth responded with a triple from Matthew Fraulini.
Only a sophomore, Fraulini would score eight points in the game despite sustaining a shot to the leg that had him hobbled at times. Opting to stick it out, Fraulini was crucial to his team as he has been all throughout the year.
With 5:18 to play in the first, the Trojans took a 6-3 lead on an and one from senior captain Reese Johnson.
Johnson drove hard to the hole and pushed through contact to hit a shot over the reach of a Mustangs defender.
On the night, Johnson had 15 points on four made three-pointers.
Fraulini made another three with 4:15 to play in the opening period, giving Portsmouth a 9-5 lead.
Overall, both teams would make seven shots from beyond the arc in the contest.
“It just kind of happened,” Collins said on his team’s three-point shooting. “They played us a lot of zone, and we had open looks.”
After the first quarter, Lynchburg-Clay led 11-9 after Portsmouth was held scoreless for the final four minutes of play.
Quickly out of the gates again in the second quarter, the Trojans took a 15-11 lead in the opening minute and a half.
Senior DJ Eley scored first for Portsmouth on a quick drive to the rim, and then it was fellow senior Daniel Jordan getting two baskets inside as well.
Eley scored eight points in the game, and Jordan finished with 11.
As they would all game, the Mustangs bounced right back up. Taking the lead on a three from Raymond Conner with 4:50 before the break, Lynchburg-Clay clawed back into control.
Trailing 18-15, the Trojans took a timeout and came out with a quick 5-0 run on a Johnson three and Fraulini layup.
However, over the final three and a half minutes of the second period, it was the Mustangs who jumped back on top with a 7-0 run to take a 25-20 halftime lead.
From that point on Portsmouth would take jabs towards Lynchburg-Clay, but the Mustangs always had a counter punch of their own.
The Trojans would pull within one possession on eight separate occasions in the second half, and even tied the game late in the fourth quarter.
In the end, it was Lynchburg-Clay who was just too much to overcome.
Portsmouth trailed 40-33 after three quarters, and it looked as though the Mustangs were beginning to gain some separation on the scoreboard.
With the senior captains the Trojans have, though, you knew Portsmouth wasn’t going to lie down and quit.
Johnson and Jordan combined for all nine of the points scored for the Trojans in the fourth.
“Reese Johnson, Daniel and DJ Eley kept us in the game when it looked like it was starting to get out of hand, they stepped up,” Collins said.
Starting the final quarter, Johnson made two three-pointers. His second three pulled the game to 42-39 in favor of Lynchburg-Clay with 5:40 to go.
Then, it was Jordan coming right back for Portsmouth. A layup from Jordan with 3:05 to play brought the margin to just one, and a free throw from Jordan with 2:27 to play tied the game at 42.
Answering right back for the Mustangs was McLaughlin, who hit a three with 2:15 to play.
Still with a chance, the Trojans were unable to come up with scores.
“We got some stops that allowed us to stay in the game, but it boiled down to a couple possessions,” Collins said. “They made the big shots when they had to, and we weren’t able to.”
With 7.7 seconds left, McLaughlin made two free throws to give Lynchburg-Clay a 47-42 lead, which would wind up being the final score.
Collins saw firsthand how hard his kids played, and has no doubts about the heart they have.
“They’ve got a heart of a lion,” Collins said. “Our kids our resilient, and they’re tough kids. This loss will sting because it’s their last game as seniors, but they’ll move on and better days are ahead for them.”
“I told them there’s going to be a winner and a loser, but at the end of the day everybody’s got to get up tomorrow and make some sort of decision on what you’re going to do with your life. You’ve just got to take this as a chapter in your life that’s closed, and you’ve got to move to the next one.”
The game marks the end of the careers of six seniors for Portsmouth: DJ Eley, Daniel Jordan, Reese Johnson, Isaac Kelly, Gabe Gambill, and Anthony Ferrara.
“We had a great year, and it’s all because of those guys,” Collins said. “You take a guy like Anthony Ferrara who’s a senior, who was willing to come out and play and practice every day even though he didn’t get in the game.”
Kelly transferred to play with the Trojans from Lewis County in Kentucky, and was praised throughout the year for his demonstrated leadership with his new Portsmouth teammates.
Gambill was a major part of the Trojans off the bench, playing valuable minutes and offering a reliable low post threat with his 6-foot-5 frame.
Eley, Jordan, and Johnson were the three captains for Portsmouth, and have grown as players and kids during their time with the Trojans.
Next season’s Portsmouth team will be filling some big shoes, but there are capable players who can replace that void for the Trojans.
Danny Lattimore and Myquel McKinley stepped up in their roles as second team players over the course of the year. Lattimore has a nice blend of speed and quickness, and McKinley offers athleticism for Portsmouth.
Collins also cites Colin Boehm as a key cog for the Trojans. Boehm was enthusiastic and energetic during the game against the Mustangs, always the first off the bench to offer encouragement and support to his teammates during a timeout.
“Colin Boehm who’s a football first guy, was able to come out and play,” Collins said. “Hats off to all those guys, because those guys were fun to coach and they made my job and my coaches jobs real easy this year.”
Beyond the aforementioned players, Portsmouth also will have Fraulini, Chris Jenkins, Devin McLaurin, Andrew Meadows, and Michael Duncan if everyone returns from this season’s team.
The Trojans head coach still has some thinking of his own to do on what his future could hold in store.
“I’ve got to make some decisions on myself,” Collins said. “This is nine years and I’ve got to sit down and evaluate what my future is.”
Despite the outcome of the game against Lynchburg-Clay, Collins was grateful for how the season turned out.
“I want to thank all the fans for coming out,” Collins said. “It’s been a great year, and we were able to win 15 or 16 games again. Another great year for us, that’s a hats off to the kids and our administration who really supported us. It’s all in all a good year.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT