DAN VANCE: Monday after regional is prep basketball’s most surreal day for teams like Blackhawk Christian and North Side

North Side senior Austin Boucher buries his head in his hands during the closing moments of Saturday's Regional title loss to Carmel. (Photo by Dan Vance of news-sentinel.com)
Blackhawk Christian junior Frankie Davidson cuts down a piece of net after the Braves beat Gary 21st Century on Saturday in the Class 1A Culver Regional Final. (Courtesy photo by Brad Stoffer)
North Side junior Keion Brooks Jr. attempts to go up for a shot between Carmel's Eddie Gill (left) and John Michael Mulloy (33) during Saturday's Logansport Regional. (Photo by Dan Vance of news-sentinel.com)

It is Monday after boys high school basketball Regionals. The two teams that started the season as the best two in the area, finished as arguably the best two when the regular season closed.

They both claimed Sectional titles and they both won Saturday morning in their Regional game. But Monday morning came around — as it tends to — and life is dramatically different for North Side and Blackhawk Christian. It is the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat as they say in the cliché writings.

The best of times

Blackhawk Christian is headed to semi state and look to be a heavy contender to be state champion, just as the prophecies wrote. Jalan Mull and Frankie Davidson have been everything Braves fans have come to dream of, freshman Caleb Furst has shed any sign of any freshman jitter and depth is a defining trait for a team proving that the more people you play and the more teams you play, the better off you are for a Class 1A playoff.

One can hardly imagine the heights of excitement chattering through the halls of the school today. Plans are being made for media availability, t-shirts declaring ‘Final Four’ are being made to order and the Braves get to take a 45 minute trip on Saturday to try and etch their legacy in stone if they can beat Southwood. Forget about being the best Blackhawk Christian team ever, are they one of the best area high school basketball teams — pound for pound — ever?

That is why it is the best of times for Blackhawk Christian. It could get better. But up to now, it has never been better.

How can that not make a Brave grin from ear to ear?

The worst of times

The last loss is always tough. Last of a season, last of a career; they are never easy. The low two days after being two wins away from a state title game, that can be the hardest to face for North Side and the four other local schools that lost out on Saturday. The Legends aren’t special in this regard. Homestead, Angola, Canterbury and Southern Wells all also saw their seasons close over the weekend.

So North Side isn’t special in this regard, just poignant. They were the guiding light for the last year-plus. A state runner up that was poised, in the minds of many fans to be headed back to Bankers Life Fieldhouse this March 24. Maybe for a rematch with Romeo Langford and New Albany, maybe (before this weekend) for a chance at revenge against Ben Davis. However it was going to end, it wasn’t supposed to end for them like it did if you ask most people. It took watching senior Austin Boucher bury his head in his hands late Saturday night at Logansport for me to think about that. The moment when it hits you: season over, career over.

It is harsh.

And we forget about that. People like to say “it’s just a game.” I’m guilty of it, you probably are too. Does we as adults need to get as worked up about and at high school sporting events as too many do? No. It is not that deep, or shouldn’t be to us most of the time. But these are kids. And this is their world.

I don’t hearken back to even pertinent parts of my life much, but I will here and just this one time. You don’t know heartbreak until you’ve been in a high school locker room when a 17 or 18-year old’s final season on that level comes to an end. I recall watching as a former player of mine, Tyshawn Mauldin, struggled with the concept of even taking his #4 jersey off the night his career ended. He sat in that Huntington North locker room as long as he could, knowing he would never get to put another jersey on again.

For some, it is just the final season before moving on to the next level and for others it is that last time they ever put on a jersey. Yeah, for me and you as adults, it isn’t that poignant. But high school athletes live for their sport more often than not. Until you’ve seen the heartbreak in the eyes of that kid taking off that jersey for that last time, you will never know how much more than “just a game” it is to them.

You toughen up to leave the locker room and for the bus ride home and then Sunday you try to get and free your mind from it.

Then Monday morning hits and you have to go to school. And your failure, perceived or real, is written on every wall and in every text book.

It happened at North Side and at Homestead and Angola, Canterbury and Southern Wells. While Blackhawk Christian and Westview were celebrated on their campuses and in their communities, five other teams had to get up today and had to face a very harsh reality. Final, surrealistic, pick up a thesaurus and find a few more words: today is deep for these kids.

It is almost a more emotional day than the Monday after the state title game. To get so close, yet be so far away and lose in Regional play; to be so close and have the adrenaline and fear pacing through your body all week before semi state play. It is emotion at its most raw and it deserves notice.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Dan Vance at dvance@news-sentinel.com.