Head basketball coach Blane Maddox vowed prior to the first ever appearance of the Warren Warriors in the state final four tournament that no matter what happened they would represent Southeasten Ohio basketball and Washington County with class.
Despite coming up on the short end of a 70-51 decision to the Akron St. Vincent St. Marys Fighting Irish, the Warren players, coaches and their faithful that made the two plus hour journey to the Schottenstein Center in Columbus, made good on their head coaches wishes.
The Warrior blue in the crowd far out numbered the green and gold of the Irish, who have won six Ohio State Division II Championships and one national championship (2003) and just happen to be the high school alma mater of one LeBron James.
On the court, it was quite evident even in pregame warm ups, that the Warriors were going to be facing a team with the size and athleticism that they had not seen in any of their 26 wins in their historic season.
Despite allowing the Irish to score six of the first seven points in the game, the Warriors didn't fall victim to the big game jitters as they actually rallied to out score SVSM by a 14-8 mark to claim a 15-14 lead with a little more than a minute to play in the first quarter.
Warrior Reece Patton continued to show his ability to excel in the clutch as the senior forward drilled a pair of triples in the opening quarter.
Sophomore Michael Hall led the Warriors with eight first quarter points including the three- pointer that gave Warren what would turn out to be their only lead in the game.
"I was really proud of the way we came out and battled and hit some really big shots and gave them a pretty good scare for awhile," said Maddox. "We had some good looks that maybe we could have kept it a little closer there but just couldn't knock them down."
The Irish got a pair of inside scores from Nick Wells to recapture their lead in the final minute of the opening quarter before outscoring the Warriors by a 20-10 mark in the second quarter to take a 39-27 lead into intermission.
Warrior stand out junior Evan French, who came into the game averaging just shy of 20 points per game on the season, was definitely the focus point of the Irish defense as head coach Dru Joyce's game plan was to keep French blanketed and force the other Warriors to score.
French was limited to just eight field goal attempts and five points in the game.
"They got into Evan (French) pretty well and we were a little slow in getting some screens to free him up for some open shots," said Maddox. "He got into a little bit of foul trouble as well but they did a really good job on him."
The Irish slowly but surely pulled away in the third quarter and extended their lead to 57-39 heading into the final period.
An 8-2 Irish run to open the fourth put an exclamation point on the victory but did little to curb the enthusiasm of the Warren fans in the crowd as they cheered loudly as Maddox began to empty his bench in appreciation of the most successful Warrior basketball team in school history.
"I am just so proud of these kids to get here for the first time in history," said Maddox.
"Its something that we will be able to hold onto forever," said Patton, who tossed in a game high 21 points. "We did all we could and to make it to the final four, I'm definitely proud of our team."
While this years season comes to a close with a 26-2 record, memories of French's 27 points in the final eight minutes in the comeback win over Athens or Evan Yabs put back buzzer beater over New Philadelphia will likely last a lifetime for the Warrior team and its fans.
With Patton, French, and Hall all returning next year combined with a junior varsity team that went undefeated for the first time in school history, don't be surprised if the Warriors don't make a return visit to Columbus in March of 2014.
Mike Morrison is a part-time sports writer for The Marietta Times.