Believing his three seniors wanted to keep the season alive and carry the team, Academics Plus Coach John Harrison endured a magical ride with the Falcons over the last two weeks.
The journey started Feb. 15 in the first round of the 1A-5 district tournament. The Falcons (14-20) won their first three games which guaranteed them a spot in the 1A-3 region tournament. They ended the tournament winning four of five games.
Unfortunately, their ride ended last Thursday with a 55-45 loss to Southside-Bee Branch in the first round of the regional tournament. At one point in the second half, the Falcons were down by 17 points, 34-17, halfway through the third period. Twice in the fourth quarter, they were able to reduce that to five points with the final time at 50-45 with 1:35 left in the contest.
"I think Southside could very well play for a state title," Harrison said. "That wouldn’t hurt my feelings. They don’t make a lot of mistakes and aren’t flashy but are physical."
On Feb. 14, Harrison didn’t think this team had it in them. After an ugly 54-36 loss to Riverview that night, he told the Falcons if they played like they that the next day against Lisa Academy North in the first round of the district, their season would be over.
"I’m extremely pleased with the three seniors-Paul Sheesley, Chabala Musonda and Raylon Lynch," Harrison said. "They made a decision to put this team on their shoulders, and they did. Paul and Raylon were unstoppable, and after each game, I gave Chabala the assignment of shutting the next team’s best player. Defensively, he was the difference."
Sheesley ended the season averaging 14 points and 12 rebounds a contest. Lynch also averaged 14 points, and Harrison was impressed how he came along at the end of the season. Musonda averaged nine points, but his greatest contribution was his vocal leadership on the floor.
"Raylon came on strong at the end of the year, and the last six games, he was fearless going to the basket," Harrison said. "Chabala got us into our sets defensively. I can’t say enough about the three seniors. They stepped up in every way and showed great leadership for our young guys."
After starting off the season hot, the Falcons hit a mid-slump before coming on at the end of the season. While Harrison admits in reality it is hard for a team to win all its games, he was glad Academics Plus played its best basketball at the end.
"We played as hard as we could at the end of the year," Harrison said. ‘The single most thing I’m proud of is everybody had to play their best to beat us."