STURGEON — With 43.7 seconds left in Tuesday's game, Tolton Catholic boys basketball coach Tyler Clark pulled his starters off the court. As the players walked off, the Trailblazers' faithful rose to give the players a standing ovation.
At this point, everyone was aware that the Class 2, District 7 game against Harrisburg at Sturgeon was Tolton's last game of its first varsity season, but they were not saying goodbye, because there are currently no seniors at the two-year-old high school.
“We don’t graduate a single player,” said Clark after the Bulldogs' 76-54 victory in the first-round contest.
The Trailblazers matched Harrisburg closely throughout the first half. Tolton tried its best to get its 6-foot-6 center, Josh Boyer (17 points), active in the post, but Harrisburg often exploited Tolton's poor defense, continually getting into the paint for easy points.
"In the first game, they (Harrisburg) killed us,” John Boyer, Josh Boyer's father said. "Tolton's matured so much (since then). I can tell you, they will be a whole lot better next year."
In January, Tolton lost 63-46 at Harrisburg, but since that meeting, the Trailblazers went 6-4 on their way to an 11-win season.
"To win 11 games in your first varsity season and compete the way we did is exciting," Clark said.
Things began to unravel for Tolton in the second half. Bulldogs senior Ethan Beringer (30 points) led an impressive run that pushed the lead to more than 20 points.
The difference in experience between the two teams was plain to see from the outset. Harrisburg played with nine upperclassmen, while all of Tolton's starters were sophomores. The Trailblazers also turned over the ball 19 times.
Still, despite the difficult loss and mistakes, there is optimism for Tolton's basketball program.
“We’re just starting a tradition,” John Boyer said.
Clark also said that he's excited about his team’s future, and that the Trailblazers will try to improve upon their inaugural varsity season by playing upwards of 40 games together in the summer. The Trailblazers did the same last summer, but now have a full season of varsity experience under their belts.
"It’s strange to take a team to the playoffs and not have a single person on the team play varsity basketball before this year," Clark said. "It’s unique, and we don’t have to worry about that anymore."