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Day of streaks -- Part 2

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

ALBANY -- It was there, buried under all that frustration, tucked under the pain and hidden behind the disbelief.

Deerfield-Windsor had just been stunned -- no, shocked -- in the GISA Region 3-AAA final Saturday night, falling to Westfield, 53-50, in a game that left the Knights searching for answers and left Westfield storming the court at Darton, where the Hornets celebrated as if they had just won the state title.

"It hurts,'' DWS coach Gordy Gruhl said.

It always does when Goliath hits the pavement.

But Gruhl wasn't concerned as much with how much it smarted to be taken down in the region final that his team has owned for the last six years -- he was wondering how his kids would get back on their feet.

"The last time we lost in the region final was 2003, and we went out and won the state title that year,'' said Gruhl, who found what he was looking for underneath this tough loss -- a way to move forward. "When we lost that year, it served as a wake-up call, and I hope it serves as a wake-up call now.''

Gruhl said the 2003 team responded immediately.

"I knew right away when (that team) came back to practice the following Monday. I could see it in their work ethic. I knew it that Monday,'' Gruhl said. "That loss showed them what a good team we could be when we do the little things and play good ball, and what a bad team we could be when we don't. When we don't do the little things, we're just another team.''

The 2003 group snapped back after that loss and marched to the state title, and Gruhl hopes his young team takes the same path. He told his kids that story in the locker room after the loss on Saturday.

"It will wake us up,'' said sophomore guard Ramello Carter, who led Deerfield with 20 points, six rebounds and three assists. "We needed it. We needed it so we can move forward. It's going to be a totally different attitude at practice on Monday.''

Complacency is a tough enemy, and Gruhl said he could see this loss coming, even though his team had blown Westfield off the court twice, hammering the Hornets, 81-58, last Friday and beating them, 65-43, on Jan. 18.

"I've seen this coming for about two weeks,'' said Gruhl, whose team had won 16 in a row going into the final. "It's a tough lesson for a bunch of sophomores to learn. All the things we do well, we just didn't do (in this game). We didn't do anything. We didn't do the things that make us a good team, and when you do that good teams get beat.

"I'm not taking anything away from Westfield. They came to play and when they got the open looks they knocked them down. They played harder than we did.''

It came down to a final shot for DWS (19-4), but center Tyrone Culbreth missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer to seal the win for Westfield, which stormed back after trailing 9-0 early.

Evan Grantham, who was scoreless in the first quarter, hit two 3s in a row and scored 11 second quarter points to ignite a 20-5 run that lifted Westfield to a 28-20 lead. The Hornets went to the half, leading 30-24 and never trailed again. Grantham finished with 23 points, and Wesley Rust, who hit a pair of 3s in the second quarter, finished with 11.

'We lost the game in the first half,'' Gruhl said. "Their confidence grew the more the game wore on, and as they gained confidence we panicked at times.''

DWS closed the gap to 40-35 when Culbreth tipped in a basket at the third quarter buzzer, and Carter opened the fourth with a drive to cut the lead to 40-37, but Westfield slowed the ball down and waited for open shots, picking DWS apart in the fourth and building the lead to 52-44 with 1:11 left.

Then Sam Shellhaas hit a 3-pointer and Culbreth hit a drive to close to 52-49 with 50 seconds left. Kinslow made a steal at the DWS end with 42 seconds left, diving on the floor. He got up and was dribbling when an official from the other end of the court ran in and called a delayed traveling violation that all but ended the game.

Westfield (17-9) was the No. 3 seed in the tournament, but the Hornets upset No. 2 Sherwood on Thursday in the semifinals before knocking off the defending state champs in the final.

"I thought we played harder than any team I've ever coached,'' said Westfield coach Jake Walls, who praised his seniors (Grantham, Rust and Wesley Murph) for leading the way. "I could see it in their eyes. That had that steel resolve. They were not going to lose.''

He said his center Murph (9 points) had a blue-collar night that turned the game toward Westfield.

"I can't say enough about Wesley Murph. He does so many things you don't see,'' he said. "Culbreth usually dominates the game, and Murph did a great job on him. We just played harder than I've ever seen. To beat that program says a lot because of who they are.''

Culbreth finished with 13 points, 13 rebounds and three blocked shots and also made four steals. Banks Kinslow, the only player back from last year's state championship team, scored nine for DWS and had four steals and three assists.

But it wasn't enough.

"Our streak's over. We had a pretty good ride, (winning 16 in a row). Now it's time to go back to work," said Gruhl, whose team plays Westminster at 4 p.m. Thursday at John Milledge in the first round of the state playoffs.

"We will be hungry after this,'' Carter said. "We will be a lot hungrier.''