Several minutes after Marietta College's season-ending 58-54 setback to Ohio Northern University in an Ohio Athletic Conference Tournament men's quarterfinal game at Ban Johnson Arena Tuesday night, a nice round of applause greeted the Pioneer cagers when they emerged from the locker room.
It was very emotional, and, yes, there were very few dry eyes in the house, especially for seniors' Kevin Knab, Trevor Halter, Joe Puch, and Conner Kilpatrick.
"I can't say enough about those guys," said MC head coach Jon VanderWal. "Those seniors changed the face of a program.
"I love 'em to death. I told everyone of them I love 'em. I'd do anything for them. They mean the world to me."
VanderWal paused to compose himself.
"They're my first class, and they believed in us and came here," the coach continued. "I couldn't be any prouder of those guys."
A year ago at this time, Marietta was on a roll, winning the OAC Tournament to advance to the NCAA Division III event. The Pioneers got as far as the "Sweet 16" before bowing out to Whitworth in Wooster.
With no seniors on that team, MC was nationally ranked in 2011-12 preseason polls. Much was expected, but sometimes things don't always work out the way they're supposed to.
"We have a really good team, and we thought that we could get there (to Saturday's OAC Tournament final), but the year's kind of taken its toll on us," said VanderWal, whose 2011-12 navy blue and white squad still finished with a solid 17-9 overall record.
"We've never been able to get fully clicking. And, then, we ran into an Ohio Northern team that played well tonight."
No doubt about it, ONU, No. 6-seeded with a 14-13 overall mark, was a nemesis this season, beating the Pioneers three times, including twice on MC's home floor at BJA.
"It's hard to beat anybody on a given night," said Ohio Northern boss John Rhodes, a 1988 Ohio University graduate, "and I think for us it came down to matchups."
Rhodes, whose Polar Bear cagers are scheduled to play at Capital University in a tournament semifinal tonight, smiled.
"We matched up well with them, and we executed our game plan today," the ONU coach continued. "We know they're an uptempo team. We wanted to control the clock so to speak, and we didn't want to squander our opportunities."
Marietta had its chances, too, and fought hard to the final buzzer, Even when down by six points with less than a minute left in the contest, the Pioneers were able to stage a rally, and came to within one made three from tying the score.
They just ran out of time - and now they will have to wait until next season.
"We're going to have a good team next year," VanderWal said. "We've got a lot of work to do. We've got guys that have got to get to work.
"We've got to get better. We've got a lot of talented guys in this program, and we expect good things next year."
Ron Johnston is the Marietta Times sports editor and can be reached at 376-5441 or at firstname.lastname@example.org