George Suggs collapsed on the bench, draped a towel over his face and hung his head. Tears flowed freely as the finality of it all washed over him. The 6- foot-10 Vianney post had just fouled out of the Golden Griffins Class 5 quarterfinal against defending champion McCluer North and he knew. He knew there wouldn’t be another game. He knew there wouldn’t be another practice.When he and his fellow seniors walked out of the Mark Twain Center on the University of Missouri-St. Louis campus, he knew their high school careers were done. And that thought burned Suggs and the others like a thousand paper cuts.
Vianney was no match for the North Stars. McCluer North made mincemeat of the Metro Catholic Conference champions. It ran out to an early lead that it never relinquished. It took Vianney nearly the entire first quarter to score its first field goal. It missed seven layups in the first half. Though down six at halftime, the Golden Griffins were smacked upside the head by a 12-2 run that put them so far down the rabbit hole they would never recover. “It was pretty devastating,” Vianney coach KevinWalsh says.
The end is always devastating. Whether you lose close or lose big, it doesn’t matter, it always hurts. But there is something to be said about losing when you play well. If a team plays as well as it can and still gets beat, there is a tiny bit of solace in that. That’s what made it doubly painful for the Golden Griffins. They went down and didn’t play anywhere close to their best basketball.
All season Vianney had found ways to stay in ball games and, save one against Cardinal Ritter, pull them out. McCluer North made Vianney uncomfortable. It defended like no other opponent the Golden Griffins faced all year. The North Stars held Tony Cochran, Vianney’s most dangerous weapon and all-time leading scorer, without a point until the fourth quarter. “Our defense was smothering,” McCluer North coach Randy Reed says.
The team that had made the regular season its personal playground never emerged. It showed the spirit and the fight that treated Vianney so well, but it was never able to get any traction. Every time the Golden Griffins appeared poised to put together a run, the North Stars would squash it. Every bounce, every tip, every loose ball, every break seemed to elude Vianney. It never got into a flow, it never got into a rhythm and it never controlled the game. The Golden Griffins were always trying to catch up to McCluer North and never did.
Good teams get beat—that’s life. But this wasn’t a good team. This was Vianney’s greatest team. The Golden Griffins rolled to a school record 27 wins against two losses, the fewest ever in school history. It won the Meramec Holiday Festival for the first time ever and won the Jerry Boeckman Invitational for only the third time in 45 years. The Golden Griffins opened the season with 18 consecutive victories, another school record, and clinched back-to-back district titles, won the MCC championship for the first-time in school history and did it all with an enormous target on their back. “I think they changed the culture of our school,”Walsh says. “They’re the best team in the history of our school.”
This team wanted nothing more than to deliver another milestone, the program’s first final four berth. But it didn’t. And that’s what burned the most.