Unless you were hiking in the Andes without a smart phone, by now you've heard that 'TheBoys' came up on the short end of a hard fought loss to NorthCentral in Salem. No nail biting- no moaning about the zebra's lack of vision- and no amazing last minute comeback, The Panthers got beat, fair and square. NorthCentral had one kid (Kmiec) who got really hot, and TheBoys just couldn't quite find an answer. With the exception of him, we defended well. They defended a little better and with some stops created the separation that carried them until very late. Midd made a mini-run, and had a chance to maybe close it to down seven at about the four minute mark, when one of the officials got in the way of a pass on the break and knocked the ball out of bounds. NorthCentral got to re-set their 'D', the margin held and you could feel the air go out ThePanther's season.
That ride down the Blue Ridge is long, but the trip is shorter fueled by the excitement of a possible championship. Just getting to Salem- one of the lofty goals of every top d3 programs- is terrific. Once you've been there once, you realize that to overcome in that environment, there is precious little room for any miscues- be they turnovers, missed block-out assignments, or coolness of shooting-hand. On a night when we didn't operate on all cylinders, a good defense like NorthCentral's senses it quicker than an army of ants finds an unattended watermelon at a summer picnic, and closes the door. So, there is no 'rematch heaven' with Toomey and His Pals, more like rematch purgatory - and a hanging piece of unfinished business.
No head hanging for ThePantherFaithful on the longer ride home. More, a discussion savoring what was accomplished. This team, and Pedro, Jake and Nolan, their captains, gave us a great ride this year and through their careers. They've marked the way to Salem. Now it will be up to others to see if Midd can get back there and finally break through. I know that wherever that trio is next year, (and for every year thereafter) come tournament time, they will be in the front row rooting for 'TheBoys' to break through, and raise that trophy. Now that they are about to get onto my side of the fence, they'll be amazed how many riders are on The Panther Express.
Many of the pieces to end the purgatory are in place, and JeffB. and his staff won't be lacking for prospects in putting together a new edition. Starting with Joey - Midd will have one of the two or three best guards in the land. Although Toomey's publicity machine has been puffing along for three seasons now, if you want to see where they stand head-to-head consider the piece on 'panthernation.com'. It confirms what you've seen and actually might add to it. Nice that he was a honorable mention A-A, but clearly, given a few above him, it could've been higher. Jensen will continue the work on his doctorate in tenacity. His development as a big time contributor on the floor is expected to provide dividends at both ends. Others will need to step up. LongJack has shown that he's figured it out. My take is that NateB. will be ready, coming off what has to be a frustrating season. He's got the capability to provide scoring punch and good 'D'.
From this year's 'all-medical' team, there are several who can provide the spark. "TheSmoothie", Dylan Sinnickson, has the athleticism, and jumper to reach the nescac's top line. Luis Alvarez, as a fifth year senior, certainly demonstrated talents as a 'D' stopper. DeanB. should be able to step forward and pick up his scoring. And maybe Eamon Cuddy, and his new knees, will affirm my prediction that he is the best-under-the-radar-player in the nescac. Also to be noted from the skybox is that this group of freshman looks like they are ready. There was something intangible about them when they came onto the floor in Salem for a short 47-second test drive. They had a collective stage presence. Of course it will be tested - and of course, it's possible the eyes of an old dog were looking at a hopeful future. But I'll stand by 'stage presence', it's the precursor to poise. All don't have it, but think it was on display briefly.
Next season starts with a bang as Midd has signed on to the "HoopsvilleClassic" at Stevenson (Owings Mills, MD) to open up. It is an eight team affair, with two random games. It promises a significant early test as St.Mary's, Cabrini (both in the EE) are on board. Also in the field are Trinity, TX(ncaa bid), Salisbury, Stevenson (16-9 this year), along with a west coast power and another to be added. With the golf season looming, and the e-mail trail drying up, this is the time of year when I feel a little like Col. Frank Slade (Al Pacino's character) in "Scent Of A Woman", when at the end of his big adventure, he gets out of the limo, trudges up his driveway and goes into his little house, as the camera pulls away. To all who've been on ThePantherExpress this year thanks for sharing in the exhilaration and fun it brought, and let's hope, Lord willing, that we're able to do this again next season.
And remember: "out 'ThePineRoom' door, down 'The Alibi' stairs, past DicktheHealer's whirlpool, and off the Panther's rock, nothin' but net". Be well. Clubbo.