It's over. After three magical playoff victories which captured the imagination of a small Michigan town and the wider basketball-loving public beyond, Fennville (Mich.) High's boys basketball team fell in the state's regional playoffs on Monday, ending its "Run for Wes." The loss ended the team's season at 23-1, short of the state title which Wes Leonard had openly claimed was his goal before his tragic demise on the court.
According to MLive.com, two Schoolcraft (Mich.) High players -- Luke Ryskamp and Kody Chandler -- manhandled a makeshift Fennville lineup which was still adjusting to life without Leonard, its undisputed star. The Blackhawks pulled into an early, 21-19 lead after the first quarter, but couldn't maintain that momentum as Schoolcraft ran away with an 86-62 victory.
"We ran into a very good team, but we battled for 32 minutes," Fennville coach Ryan Klinger told MLive.com after his team's season ending loss. "[We] battled the best we could."
It's possible that Schoolcraft was simply much better than Fennville, but it's also possible that Fennville's karma finally ran out. The omens for the loss were all there: This regional matchup was Fennville's first away from DeVos College's Hope Fieldhouse (perhaps the most appropriately named site for a team's adopted home of all time) since Leonard's death, with the arena in Holland serving as an emotional home-away-from-home for the Blackhawks.
The loss also coincided with a surge of focus on the team from ESPN, which sent two different camera crews to film the Blackhawks in their regional matchup. According to the Detroit Free Press, one crew which included reporter Bob Holtzman shot the game for "SportsCenter," while another followed the team for a long-form piece on the team which planned to chart and follow the team's run through the state playoffs. Whether or not that second feature will still be produced with only a single game of footage remains to be seen.
That increased national media exposure can't be understated, either. While the team has been practically enveloped by media since Leonard's death, only local camera crews had been following the team on a day-by-day basis, with national networks and ESPN itself using footage from regional affiliates and shots including Holtzman's reporting outside of games.
Then again, it is entirely possible that a Leonard-less Fennville was finally outclassed by an opponent. The Blackhawks narrowly escaped with a win in their previous game without Leonard, the district championship game on Friday, proving that heroic efforts by the likes of DeMarcus McGee, Adam Siegel and Xavier Griggs -- Leonard's replacement in the starting lineup -- could only go so far.
Like Fennville, Schoolcraft entered the game with an undefeated record, and like the Blackhawks, the Eagles also had extra motivation to pull out a victory. Two years ago, Schoolcraft fell in the Class C state title game, losing to a team that fielded an ineligible player. Since then, the Eagles have vowed to return to that stage and win the title they feel should have been rightfully handed to them two years ago.
Now Schoolcraft will get that chance, at the steep cost of a community which will have to search for ways to grieve and cope outside the surprising safe haven of a basketball arena.
More on Fennville and Wes Leonard:
• Fennville wins district title, celebrates with Wes Leonard's family
• Fennville advances in first game without fallen star Wes Leonard
• Wes Leonard inspires as Michigan team reaches district title game
• Prep star hits game winning shot for perfect season, falls and dies
- The Blackhawks