The final home game for the Saint Xavier Rams ended with tears falling from several of the players as they walked out of their team area toward waiting parents and friends Tuesday night at the school. The night was dedicated to the players, cheerleaders, the three seniors on the two squads and their respective parents.
“They understood that it was the last one here at home,” said coach Ronald Merriweather. “They understood that it's been a long year but, they all gave tremendous effort — the whole year. And that's all I wanted to see was effort and improvement and I did see that.”
When the final buzzer sounded a game high 13 point fourth quarter was not enough to close in the Wakefield Bombers as they Rams fell 22-41 to their guests, ending the regular season 0-11.
“They came out in the fourth quarter and really played ball,” Merriweather said. “I don't know, once again, if it was the nerves or what, but they got comfortable and it seemed like they got really comfortable that fourth quarter — a little bit in the third. But, really the fourth we got really comfortable and started playing the way that we know how to play. And that just shows my guys don't quit. They won't quit, they'll keep pushing forward. We may not be the most talented on the court every night, but we will put forth that effort.”
The Rams started the game in 0-11 deficit before senior Youngmin Jeon took a steal from mid-court to the hoop with a layup to put the first points on the board for the home team.
Unfortunately for the Rams, the Bombers added an additional nine points onto their lead before that and another five to close out the frame.
Eighth grader Noah Fields added the final St. Xavier point in the quarter sinking the first of two from the charity stripe.
Joining Fields in the varsity game was fellow eighth grader Heston Jahnke a testament to their ability and that of the eighth grade class moving forward next year Merriweather said.
“That eighth grade class is going to be a lot of fun,” he said. “They got a lot of talent on that team — a lot of ball handlers. One of the things that hurt us this year, we didn't have ball handlers. Coming up on that team, we're going to have a lot of ball handlers. Heston and Noah was a great contribution this year. We got guys like Nathan and a couple more guys that will be coming up next, that's going to be a great addition to the senior class. They're going to be thrown in there quick.”
Janke led the Rams scoring efforts with 12 points, eight points in the final quarter alone.
Down 3-25 at the beginning of the second half the Rams added six points in the third quarter off a combination of Janke and Jeon.
At the beginning of the season Merriweather, in his first year as coach, said the most important thing he hoped the players would come together as a team and grow.
“Like I said in the beginning, a lot of never even played basketball before or some of them never even played competitive sports in a sports league before,” he said. “So, it's new to a lot of them, and they grew. They grew as individuals and they grew as a team — so, I'm very impressed with them. (It's) another step closer to being men and getting out into the real world. I got to see all of that, in this timeframe, three or four months.”
With the loss, the Rams said goodbye to Jeon who led the team all season and who Merriweather said was an inspiration on the court with his effort.
“I just let him know that he was one of our great leaders,” Merriweather said. “He is definitely our MVP of the team, he was the glue of the team. When he went out, we can definitely tell it on the court, it was a big difference. So he was our MVP and our leader I hate to lose him next year but he's going to go on and do great things.”
Though the team will lose one leader next season, the returning players of Jacob Copas, Tyler Engstrom, Aleric Briseno, Brady Sexton-Snow, Casey Sexton-Snow and Jesse Engstrom will have the valuable experience of varsity basketball under their belts and a second-year coach to lead them. Add to the mix a group of eighth graders who have shown their dedication to learning the sport and skills necessary to compete in a competitive, fast-paced sport.
The Rams are guaranteed one more game as they face Randolph-Blue Valley (13-5) in the first round of the Class 1A Regional basketball tournament Feb. 24 in Randolph. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. with the victor facing the winner of the Frankfurt versus Wakefield game Thursday night.