The seniors on the Jeannette boys basketball team realized this was their last chance to earn something that had eluded them their entire high school careers -- a piece of a section title.
The Jayhawks had played second fiddle to Greensburg Central Catholic the past three seasons. They went into their section finale last Friday against the Centurions with a chance to share the section title but ultimately Jeannette would fall again, 52-45, and have to settle for second.
Now the seniors and the rest of the team turn their focus to something else that has eluded them, a trip to the WPIAL Class AA championship game.
The previous time Jeannette won a section title and reached the Palumbo Center to play for the WPIAL championship, the current seniors were in eighth grade.
Their ability to put the lost section title in the rear-view mirror and focus on what lies ahead may be a critical factor on whether the Jayhawks can get over the WPIAL quarterfinal hump.
"Obviously every team has a goal to win the section," Jeannette coach Adrian Batts said. "We had a chance but we didn't play our best. You learn from those things."
Jeannette has lost in the WPIAL quarterfinals the past three seasons.
This season the Jayhawks appear to have the talent to make a deep postseason run. Four starters returned from last season. They wrapped up the regular season with a 17-4 overall record, 10-2 in Class AA Section 3. Their only losses came to Greensburg Central Catholic (twice), Brentwood High School, one of the top teams in Tennessee, and South Fayette on a shot at the buzzer in their regular-season finale on Saturday.
"We had a very good [regular] season," Batts said. "I think we will continue on. We just have to be ready in the playoffs for whatever seed we get, we have to be ready to go. We know now you can't lose."
The Jayhawks will play the winner of Saturday's preliminary-round game between Avonworth and Aliquippa next Wednesday at a site and time to be determined.
"We have to get back to work and get focused," Batts said. "We are happy for the opportunity. I always tell them: 'Yesterday is history, today is a mystery.'"
There is no mystery regarding the talent on Jeannette. Julian Batts, a 5-foot-11 sophomore and the coach's son, runs the point for the Jayhawks. He is a returning starter as are seniors Duke Brown, a 6-3 guard, and Jordan Edmunds, a 5-10 guard, and 6-5 senior center Seth Miller. Miles Sunder, a 6-4 junior, starts at forward.
Jeannette is doing this all without last year's leading scorer, guard Orlando Morgan, who isn't playing this season for personal reasons. He averaged 17 points per game. In his absence Brown emerged as the team's leading scorer, averaging 19 points per game.
"[Losing Morgan] was tough," Brown said. "He was another big threat for us, shooting-wise and defensively. He was always a big presence, but we had to learn to play through it."
Julian Batts is second on the team, averaging close to 16 points per game. The rebounding responsibility has been shared by nearly everyone. Brown, Miller, Edmunds and Sunder all average around eight rebounds per game.
Batts and Edmunds each scored 13 in the section-final loss to Greensburg Central Catholic. Brown (16), Batts (14), Miller (13) and Sunder (12) all reached double figures in a Feb. 5 win against Shady Side Academy.
Jeannette finished the regular season with the best scoring defense in the section, allowing only 47.4 points per game, that ranks fifth in WPIAL Class AA.
"Since I have been here, defense has always been our staple," said Batts, in his seventh year overall at Jeannette and fourth as head coach. "We defend and rebound and take care of the ball, we usually do a very good job of that."
Senior guard Garrett Elliot and sophomore Zac Altieri are the first two guards off the bench while 6-3 junior Michael Wise is the first forward off the bench.
Jeannette had an impressive regular season with notable non-section victories against Class AAAA Latrobe and playoff-bound teams Monessen and Wilkinsburg to go along with winning 10 of 12 section games, but the Jayhawks are not about to dwell on their regular-season resume.
"This is a new season," coach Batts said. "What you did yesterday, doesn't matter. You have to come in ready to play. All our guys are experienced with the playoffs.
"Who knows what will happen with the way the ball bounces in the playoffs? But with that being said, I think we can make a run."hsbasketball