As the old saying goes, you win some, you lose some.
Gainesville finally lost Friday night in Macon, falling in heartbreaking fashion to the now-five-time defending state champs from Miller Grove in the Class AAAAA finals, ending a 15-game winning streak filled with unforgettable moments.
Let’s hope that in the long view, the fact that their run ended in disappointment won’t overshadow all that came before it. Because, on a personal note, this was one of the most entertaining teams this humble scribe has had the privilege to cover.
That’s not to say they were the best; the Red Elephants often seemed outmatched, a long shot to first reach the playoffs, much less to advance as far as they did. What made them easy to root for was how they went from a sub-.500 collection of athletes to one of the state’s best teams.
It’s how they did it, not that they lost, that should be remembered.
They did it with an effort that exceeded the call, crashing the glass to repeatedly outrebound bigger teams and scrambling for loose balls in the first quarter like the game was already on the line.
They did it by being an unselfish group, always willing to let the spotlight shine on a teammate, knowing that the reflection would illuminate them all.
They did it by being gallingly unafraid, no matter the opponent. They went toe-to-toe with some of the best basketball teams in the Southeast and never blinked, never looked the least bit intimidated.
They did it with Shaquan Cantrell’s scoring, all-around skills and team-first leadership. They did it with Deshaun Watson’s shooting from the outside, raw athleticism and dedication to the cause. They did it with Chase England’s hustle, guts and intelligence underneath the basket, with Caleb Hayman’s uncanny rebounding, with Luke Moore’s ability to score no matter how well-defended, with Jikeese Ruff’s knack for coming up big in clutch moments, with Tray Harrison’s lightning-quick dashes to the basket and with Luke Maddox’s often-brilliant point guard play off the bench.
And the list doesn’t end there, but by now, you get the point.
This Red Elephant team had the right mix of talent, length, athleticism, depth and coaching to play for the state title, but they did it by being a team. And there’s no better brand of basketball to watch than the kind in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
It should also be mentioned that this was the first Red Elephant team since 1984 to play for a boys state championship. For a school as rich in athletic talent and tradition as Gainesville, that only demonstrates how difficult the task can be. Most athletes never play for a state championship. This group did — and the handful who came over from the football team played for two in the last three months.
In the end, the magic ran out. Balls that had been bouncing Gainesville’s way, now cruelly bounced the other. Calls that had benefitted the Red Elephants, now all seemed to go against them.
Their march to Macon was fueled by improbable comebacks, clutch play late in every game, timely defensive stops, and buckets when they had to have them.
Friday night there was none of the above.
But it would be an injustice if, years from now, this team is remembered for the tenuous lead that slipped away in the second half or for the rally that fell short in the waning minutes.
This was a team that should be remembered for that it did best: make their school, their town and Hall County basketball proud.
Brent Holloway is the sports editor for The Times. Contact him at email@example.com.