LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Anybody that has watched five seconds of a West Liberty game knew it wasn't finished Saturday, no matter what the scoreboard read at halftime. Down 13 in their NCAA Division II national semifinal to Metro State, there was still somehow a feeling the Hilltoppers were going to find a way to pull it off and march on to Atlanta a week from today for the national championship game.
The hole they had built, however, was just a little too deep, and the shots fell just a little too infrequently. The fact that it happened so close to the finish line is going to hurt for a while, but then there will be some clarity.
Alex Falk, Tim Hausfeld and Chris Morrow played their final games Saturday in West Liberty uniforms, but their names will be etched in stone forever in school lore. No class in the history of Division-II won more games (128) than this one did.
"That record will never be broken," WLU coach Jim Crutchfield said. "A team would have to go undefeated for about four straight years.
"What these guys have accomplished is nothing short of amazing."
Understandably, neither Morrow or Falk found any solace in those numbers immediately after the game, but let's hope they, along with Hausfeld, realize at some point after the wounds are a little less fresh what they meant to the program not only as basketball players, but as human beings.
"The one thing about West Liberty that everyone should know is, we never give up,'' Falk said fighting back tears. "I don't feel (great about it) right now, but hopefully I will.
"Hopefully I'll wake up here in about a month and think 'wow. That was a good career.' Right now it just hurts a lot that we fell short.''
They really didn't, though. Sure, the championship trophy will be displayed in some other gym in some other school, but the big picture needs to include where this program was not all that long ago. Twenty-win seasons were a cause for parades, but now it's a big deal if the Hilltoppers don't win 30. There's two Final Four appearances and three ventures to the Elite Eight. Let's also not forget that this group was ranked No. 1 in the country for parts of the last three seasons.
Everybody from coast-to-coast knows who West Liberty is.
"To see it all come up short, it's frustrating,'' Morrow said. "But I couldn't be more proud of my teammates and our coaching staff. We never gave up and that's the staple of West Liberty."
Nobody will soon forget Hausfeld's 35-foot bombs from just inside half court, just as Falk sprinting 94 feet without the basketball on every play, diving for every loose ball and wearing floor burns like a badge of honor, having shown countless young kids in the Ohio Valley the right way to play the game of basketball.
Perhaps the most underappreciated of the group, as always seems to be the case with West Liberty big men, is Morrow. He was the heart of this group, the energy and raw emotion. And it could be argued that nobody made more big shots the last four years.
So it's on to the next one, where West Liberty will once again chase that elusive national championship that has been so tantalizingly close it can be tasted.
"We're never going to go away and we're never going to give up,'' Morrow said.
We know, Chris. You proved that time and again.