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Shaw column: West Rowan boys denied again

HIGH POINT ó There are times when silence has the loudest voice.
Times when it aches to say anything, no matter how successful the journey has been. Times when an opportunity is dangled before you ó then snatched away like a squirrell confiscating autumn’s last acorn, leaving you wide-mouthed and disappointed.
Times like Friday night.
“It just hurts,” West Rowan freshman Keshun Sherrill said in a don’t-wake-the-baby tone, moments after the Falcons were forced to face their basketball mortality. “Turnovers. Unforced mistakes. That’s what happened. That’s what hurts.”
And that was just the fourth quarter of West’s season-ending loss at High Point Andrews. For the first three, this was a 24-minute test-of-nerves ó a battle of teams trying desperately not to stumble down the stairs. Only one landed on its feet, and it wasn’t the one that came up microscopically small in the season’s biggest moment.
“We’re a team that almost was great,” coach Mike Gurley said during a reflective, post-game interview. “A play here, a quarter there. A rebound over there. That’s how close we were. But based on final results, all you can say is we were very good.”

They were as good as a 25-4 team that collapsed like a soufle in the final period of its final game could be. That’s when West had eight turnovers, made only two field goals and didn’t score a point in the last 3:46 of its season.
“A great team wins the state,” said K.J. Sherrill, the hub of West’s inside-outside attack. “We were a very good team. Yes, that’s what we wanted. We thought we were that good. But we can’t look down and keep our heads down forever, not on this level. It was a good game and we’ve got to keep our heads up.”

It seems strange to discuss the Falcons in the past tense. We all thought this was a team built for the long run, a team well-poised to snap its three-year losing streak in sectional finals. Perhaps, we wondered, the Falcons would catch lightning in a jar and run the table to a state championship. Every chance it got, it routinely went for the kill.
Until last night. In their basketball-beating hearts, the Falcons had every intention of marching into the regionals. Too bad they couldn’t make a late-inning call to the bullpen because their fourth-quarter meltdown was a post-season blown save if ever there was one.
“Coach Gurley told us to play to beat High Point Andrews ó not to get to the regionals,” said junior Chris Smith, a defensive end in a power forward’s uniform. “Maybe that’s where we went wrong. This is typical of 16, 17 and 18-year olds. We want to make it all the way but sometimes, stuff just happens.”

The loss was particularly hard to stomach for West’s five seniors. HPA’s 19-point turnaround in the fourth quarter capped the careers of fan-favorites Kaleb Kimber, Brett Huffman, Myles Moore, Jason Grant and of course, K.J. ó the Charlotte-bound force who used the season as a trampoline to stardom.
“I don’t want to compare apples and oranges,” said Gurley, who placed Sherrill on a pedestal with 2002 graduate Donte Minter. “But K.J., he was as good as Donte. And Donte Minter was the cream of the crop. He’s the model on the showroom floor for how to play the post position. K.J. was the shiny new car sitting right next to him.”
It was Kimber who seemed the most upbeat before boarding the team bus.
“I got to play with my brother, my cousin and my two best friends,” he said. “No, we didn’t win it all. We had some mental breakdowns at the end. We lost the momentum. But this team was very good ó and it’s going to be remembered.”
Perhaps Smith, the last to exit West’s cage-like dressing room, said it best.
“Winning is always fun,” he said. “But not as much fun as playing with a bunch of guys who always have your back, guys who have the heart to always lift you up. We were one big family and I loved every minute of it. That’s my definition of great right there.”

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