WHITEMARSH — Imagine you're a high school basketball coach. All season, you've seen your team duke it out in one of the state's best leagues, growing as a unit and individuals, forging relationships and developing niches.
Then on the eve of the playoffs, you have most of that taken away — by an underlying positive decision for the kids involved, at least — and must rebuild virtually on the fly.
That's what the last week has been like for Tony Bacon and his Glen Mills team. And that's why Bacon, brimming with pride, had no qualms about telling his players to walk with their heads held high after their season came to an end Wednesday night at the hands of top-seeded Holy Ghost Prep, 45-39, in the semifinals of the District One Class AAA tournament.
For a team that only rolled an eight-man rotation, the No. 4 Battlin' Bulls ventured into the playoffs without three major contributors: Forward Dawine Harmon and guards Dion Bacon and Tyreek Brickus, all of whom have moved on from the Glen Mills program. Together, they averaged 17.6 points per game, a massive hole to fill.
But Glen Mills (10-11) almost did that Wednesday at Colonial Elementary School, showing the character to fight back from an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit and keeping top-seeded Holy Ghost on the ropes.
"It's crazy because you've got to rebuild your chemistry with new players," guard Anthony Burgos said. "Some people move up and they've never had to play that role, so it's hard to adjust. We came out, we tried our best."
"It's not easy," Tony Bacon said. "We're not going to make excuses. We're going to play the young men that are here. They gave it their all. They tried their best, and I'm proud of them."
It was an ugly game, which entered the fourth quarter with the Firebirds ahead 24-18. But Glen Mills awakened, thanks to a 3-pointer from Burgos early in the frame that curtailed a scoring drought of over four minutes. (That was nothing, though: Each team endured droughts of over six minutes in the first half.)
Glen Mills had its chances, twice possessing the ball down 35-34 in the final two minutes. But Tim Jarvis, one of the JV guys called up, missed a runner, and Nathaniel Searight, otherwise a bull in the lane Wednesday, was whistled for a questionable offensive foul trying to power to the tin.
That's when Holy Ghost, after a putrid 6-for-18 performance from the free throw line through the first three and a half quarters, embraced the charity of the charity stripe by hitting its final 10 attempts to ice the game. Glen Mills had its chances, twice possessing the ball down 35-34 in the final two minutes.
But Tim Jarvis, one of the JV guys called up, missed a runner, and Nathaniel Searight, otherwise a bull in the lane Wednesday, was whistled for a questionable offensive foul trying to power to the tin.
That's when Holy Ghost, after a putrid 6-for-18 performance from the free throw line through the first three and a half quarters, embraced the charity of the charity stripe by hitting its final 10 attempts to ice the game.
Despite the offensive revival of the final quarter in which Glen Mills surpassed its combined output from the first three stanzas, the shooting numbers weren't pretty. Holy Ghost "won" the shooting battle at 33.3 percent (14-for-42), compared to the Battlin' Bulls' 29.4 (15-51). The teams combined to go 5-for-25 from 3-point land, though three of Mills' four makes came in the fourth quarter. Two of those were by Burgos, who had nine of his 11 points in the frame to pace the comeback attempt.
About the only plaudit to be handed out in the first three quarters was Glen Mills' domination on the boards. Between Anthony Johnson (10 rebounds, 3 blocks in limited action) and Searight (eight boards to go with his nine points, plus four blocks), the Bulls had the lane locked down. That left Holy Ghost's Matt England (14 points, 4-for-12 from the field) unable to get open shots and guards like Michael Kirby and Zaire Watkins without lanes to penetrate.
About the only remedy was Puleo, who supplied 13 points, eight rebounds and three blocks. Crucially, his ability to step out and can mid-range jumpers opened space near the hoop.
"Coach told us to take the shots they give us," Puleo said. "Fortunately, they gave me wide-open jump shots from the foul line. It's my job to knock them down."
The Glen Mills' surge was aided by a couple of Holy Ghost dry spells. After one bucket in the first five minutes of the second half for the Firebirds, a Franco Harris deuce tied the game at 18 with 3:08 left in the third. Holy Ghost, though, proceeded to rattle off eight straight points going into the fourth quarter, which at the time looked more like 20.
But Burgos answered with a 3-pointer on the next possession to ignite the Glen Mills attack.
"It built up some momentum," Burgos said. "We wanted to get on a little run. We had a tough first half, second quarter. We just wanted to get back in the game. It gave us some confidence that we could play in this game."
When Holy Ghost got awfully fond of the 34-point mark — which it got to thanks to an England basket that briefly stretched the lead to 11 and appeared to draw the curtain on the visitors' upset dreams — Glen Mills capitalized. Steven Welsh atoned for a technical moments earlier with a steal (one of seven fourth-quarter turnovers by Holy Ghost) and lay-in, Jarvis shot-putted home a triple and Burgos hit one from the line.
When Burgos drained a 3, the run was up to 9-0 and the deficit was down to two. But the closest they'd get was one point after a Jarvis drive high off the glass to make it 35-34.
While players seeing their high school careers end might not have been in a position to appreciate their game fight, Bacon certainly was.
"Basketball is just one aspect of the Glen Mills Schools," he said. "Our job every day is to turn these boys into young men. It's not how many games we win or lose, but it's what kinds of opportunities we are creating for them in their adult lives."
And men are what Bacon felt he walked off the court with Wednesday.