Heritage’s magical season came to a heartbreaking end Saturday night as the top-seeded Huskies were the victims of a last-second basket by Seventy-First’s J’Mon Raeford that gave the Falcons a 63-62 victory in the third round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A boys basketball playoffs.
“Right now it’s hard to look back and say ‘we did something amazing,’ I think all of us believed 100 percent that we were going to go all the way,” MIT recruit Ian Hinkley said. “I don’t think anyone thought until the buzzer, or it might take a week to accept it, that we were going to lose this game. It’s been a great ride and I’m never going to forget it.”
With the two sides trading the lead back forth for the entire 32 minutes, it came down to who’d have the ball last.
After missing the front end of a one-and-one free throw with 15 seconds to go, it turned out to be the Falcons.
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Despite the rough finish, it was a season of firsts for Heritage.
The Huskies won their bracket at the John Wall Holiday Invitational, won the Cap-8 regular-season title and claimed the top seed in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A bracket.
“We’ve accomplished a lot of things that we’ve never done before at Heritage … and this team means everything to me. They set a new standard for Heritage basketball,” Heritage coach Tilden Brill III said. “I can’t say enough words. The atmosphere was awesome tonight and it was all because of these guys’ hard work.”
He continued: “It was disappointing that we lost, but they changed the way people viewed Heritage basketball … I told them to keep their heads high because I’m keeping my head high.”
Hinkley said this squad’s selflessness set it apart from Heritage teams of the past.
“We just happened to have 11, 12, 13 guys that were the same age at the same time that wanted to win rather than get their (numbers) and that’s what brought this team to the forefront compared to other teams of the past,” he said. “We definitely established something. The winning culture is here now at Heritage.”
Heritage’s leading scorer and rebounder Jayden Gardner fouled out with 53 seconds to go with as Seventy-First took a 61-59 lead, but Colton Reed responded on the other end by draining the final 3-point shot of his high school career in what seemed like a potential game-winner.
Gardner scored a game-high 24 points.
He and Virginia Tech recruit Jarren McAllister, the team’s second-leading scorer, both return for their senior seasons next year.