The scenario was eerily familiar for the Wood River High School boys' varsity basketball team Thursday—close but no Red Auerbach cigar signifying victory.
Fourth-seeded Wood River (2-20), which lost its final four games of the season by a razor-thin margin of 19 points, dropped a 43-38 loser-out heartbreaker to #3-seeded Minico (9-14) at Rupert in the Great Basin Conference West Region 4 tournament.
Senior Reno Christino (7.4 ppg), despite sitting out for the first five minutes with a bloodied nose, led Wood River with 11 points and rebounded well against Minico's more physically dominant players.
"We were right there," said Wood River coach Fred Trenkle. "The lead went back-and-forth, and we were tied with two minutes left, then we were down one right at the end. Minico's biggest lead all game was five points."
Brady Femling and Morgan Uhrig added 7 points apiece, Dylan Fullmer 6, Corbin Miniard 4 and Casey Lane 3. Wood River drilled five 3-pointers—two by Fullmer and one apiece by Femling, Uhrig and Lane.
Trenkle said Minico put all five of its players in the lane and forced the Wolverines to shoot and hit from outside. And Wood River indeed hit from the perimeter. It just wasn't enough in the final accounting.
Minico's season ended Saturday with a 54-39 loss at top-seeded Jerome, then Jerome (14-10) lost in Monday's Great Basin championship game 53-49 at #2-seeded Burley (13-9). Burley had upset Jerome 60-50 Thursday, at Jerome.
Having opened the school's first-ever season at the tougher 4A level with eight consecutive losses and having ended the 2004-05 campaign with nine straight setbacks, Wood River always knew it had little margin for error with a frontcourt that had little varsity experience.
All winter long, the Hailey squad just wasn't as deep or as athletic as its opponents. Wood River in general didn't have the "spontaneous," instinctive players who could turn something bad into something good and turn a game around, Trenkle said.
In spite of the obstacles including a 41.0 ppg offensive average, the Wolverines approached their potential. Trenkle said, "This team got more out of what they had than anyone else in the league except Jerome. And I don't think anyone played better team ball."
"We were not a real good 3A team that moved up to 4A and, against Minico, played against a 5A team that had moved down to 4A this year," said Trenkle. "But as a coach, I really enjoyed trying to beat another team instead of having to beat another team."
Defensively, Wood River was always tight. Only in the final games of the 2004-05 season did its players start to understand what the offense could do. They started getting easy lay-ins off set plays. Opposing coaches were surprised by Wood River's progress.
Trenkle said, "The other coaches kept telling me they couldn't understand how we kept getting the lay-ins off of our offense. But our Achilles heel was getting lay-ins and missing them. There were times when we couldn't put the ball in the ocean."
"But we played so well down the stretch for what we had. We played our butts off the last 10 games and down the stretches of games. Our kids practiced so hard. It was a great group of kids. I couldn't be more pleased."
Wood River will lose leading scorer Femling (12.1 ppg), the top point-getter in 15 of the team's 22 games. Femling finished his three-year career with 475 points in 55 games (8.6 ppg) and 57 3-pointers. He averaged 12.5 ppg in eight post-season contests over the past two seasons as a key starter.
Besides Femling's 266 points, points came from Christino 162, Uhrig 142, Miniard 91, Fullmer 77 including 17 3-pointers, Lane 66, Craig Werley 42, Cory Rutkowski 19, Ted Dankanyin 15, Kyle Lubeck 14, Jesse Stark 6 and Cooper McCroskey 2. Wood River was 206-for-342 at the charity stripe, and opponents 162-274.
Losing five seniors but returning seven underclassmen, Trenkle said he has high hopes for next season.
"Maybe I'm too optimistic, but I think for the next three years we'll be right there with any team in the league—and we have a good chance to have a home game in the tournament as early as next year," Trenkle said.
He added, "We played the toughest schedule in school history and came out of it very respectable."