With 26 seconds to play in the NCHSAA 2A basketball final, Forest Hills basketball coach Matt Sides called one final timeout.
The game was decided with unbeaten Farmville Central winning 86-71, but the stoppage gave Sides and his five seniors a chance to huddle together one more time, arms encircled around one another and not a one with a dry eye.
This moment was tough for all of them. But they needed it.
For a lot of teams throw around those catchy basketball cliches like togetherness, teamwork, there is no “I” in team and all the rest – but I’m confident these guys lived it every single day.
Just ask them.
“I wouldn’t want to change nothing,” said superstar senior guard Trey Belin. “If we could replay it and I knew we were going to lose, I’d still do the same thing with my brothers because they mean everything to me because win or lose it’s a family forever. The community has our back no matter what win or lose. They got my back and I’ve got theirs.”
Belin and his teammates had talked about family all season – putting the betterment of the team before any individual accolades that adorned their memorable four-year run together.
But, in all seriousness, consider what those seniors – Belin, Nas Tyson, Keeshawn Tyson, Jai Rorie and Cam Richardson (who joined that foursome as a sophomore) – accomplished together.
They went 113-13 (90 percent win share), won all four conference titles, played in three regional championships, won two regional championships and won last year’s state title.
This year they finished 29-3.
In the championship game, Forest Hills stung first and raced out to a 10-2 lead just three minutes into the game.
But over the next five minutes, the Jackets scored three points while Farmville Central went on a 20-1 run to take a 23-13 lead.
Nas Tyson had a tip-in and 3-pointer to cut the lead to five, but Forest Hills would never get that close again.
In their final game, Nas Tyson scored 21 points and had eight rebounds, Belin had 17 points and seven boards and Rorie added 12. Sophomore star to be Jamalyn Blakeney was dominant for stretches inside, and he scored 15 points to go with 10 rebounds and four blocks.
But it wasn’t enough as N.C. State recruit Terquavion Smith (22 points) and teammate Justin Wright (23 points) led a quick, long and very athletic team that shot 50 percent form the field, assisted on 15 baskets to the Yellow Jackets four and turned the ball over just four times in the second half.
“They made tough shots all game long, and it felt like we really struggled to get defensive stops,” Sides said. “It didn’t matter how we guarded, they could make a contested shot or they used the ball screens really well.
“They sliced us up, and I felt like things were really easy for them so that goes to show how talented they are.”
Nas Tyson, who is Union County’s all-time leading scorer with 2,186 points in his career, was named Forest Hills Most Outstanding Player following the loss.
It wasn’t the ending that Sides or any of his players had dreamed of after winning it all last season.
It was an emotional time in the locker room, but Sides got up the courage to bring his five seniors to the media session following the game.
They were visibly upset, also extremely prideful of all they had done.
And, most importantly to them, they had done everything together, .
“The sadness and tears that were shared in the locker room were because the journey and the time with these guys has ended,” Sides said.
While the season is over, the legacy of what this group accomplished is far from gone.
Marshville has embraced them, and the Sides senses the pride his team and community share. So, as he pulled those five seniors together one last time with time with a few seconds to play Sides told them exactly how he felt.
“Number one, that coaching them has been the highlight of my coaching career,” he said holding his voice together. “I love them and I was really proud. The fact that we’re walking off the court losing didn’t change the way that I felt about them.
“This loss shouldn’t define them and it won’t define them because of who they are as people. If this is the toughest thing they have to deal with then they’re going to be OK.”