With the weight of a teammateâ€™s death on their shoulders, Grafton boys stand tall before losing thriller to Port Washington
On a night when tears, bowed heads and standing ovations were as plentiful as field goals, all that was missing was a last-second victory.
Toiling through a heart-wrenching night that paid tribute to a fallen teammate, the Grafton boysâ€™ basketball team came close to defeating longtime rival Port Washington last Friday.
Painfully close.GRAFTONâ€™S SCOTTY TYLER found himself surrounded by Port Washington defenders during a North Shore Conference game last Friday. Tyler led the Black Hawks with 16 points, but Port rallied to pull out a 52-49 win. Photo by Sam Arendt
It wasnâ€™t until Graftonâ€™s desperation three-point shot at the buzzer fell short that host Port prevailed, 52-49, in a game that will be better remembered for its emotional undertone than the box score.
The Black Hawks took the court for their first game since player Josh Davis-Joiner collapsed at practice and died the previous Monday. Still reeling from the tragedy, his teammates carried on, buoyed by a standing-room-only crowd on the visitors side and a sympathetic contingent of Port fans, many of whom dressed in Grafton orange as a show of solidarity.
Davis-Joinerâ€™s jersey bearing the No. 32 was draped over an empty chair on the Hawksâ€™ bench, an unmistakable reminder of their loss.
â€śEverybody wanted to win it for Josh, you could sense that,â€ť Hawks coach Kevin McKenna said.
â€śI believed our kids would pull together and play hard. It was just a question of how much they would be able to focus on the game.â€ť
Not surprisingly, Graftonâ€™s focus wavered at times, particularly down the stretch. After outplaying Port in the first half and taking a 27-20 lead into intermission, the Hawks stretched the margin to eight points â€” 32-24 on a three-point play by Scotty Tyler midway through the third period.
Grafton took a 36-31 edge into the fourth quarter before the Pirates caught fire behind the play of Joey Burbach. The junior guard scored 11 of his game-high 18 points in the final period, including a three-point basket that gave Port the lead for good, 41-40, with four minutes left.
The Hawks continued to scrap despite foul problems that repeatedly sent Port to the line. The Pirates made nine of 12 free throws in the fourth quarter, including a pair by Eric Graf that put them up, 51-46, with 41 seconds to go.
After Robbie Doring hit a three-pointer that pulled Grafton within 51-49, Kyle Rismeyer added a free throw for Port. In the final 19 seconds, the Hawks missed three shots, including a closely guarded try by Doring from behind the arc as time expired.
While Grafton players slumped dejectedly on the court and sideline, fans on both sides joined Port team members in a standing ovation. The applause was for all the Hawks, including Davis-Joiner, whose absence was indelibly etched on everyoneâ€™s minds.
â€śOur team has been doing everything together to get through this. We wanted to win this for Josh, but we just came up a little short,â€ť Tyler said.
Graftonâ€™s inspired play didnâ€™t go unnoticed by the Pirates, who found themselves outhustled and outrebounded early in the game.
â€śIt was a real tragedy for their team, but they came out and played really hard,â€ť Burbach said of the Hawks. â€śThey took it to us in the first half before we were able to get going.
â€śIn the second half, we ran our offense and got some open shots.â€ť
Port coach John Bunyan, whose team improved to 4-3 in North Shore Conference play and 8-7 overall, attributed his playersâ€™ slow start to the Hawksâ€™ spirited effort.
â€śThatâ€™s a good, much-improved Grafton team,â€ť he said. â€śItâ€™s a terrible thing to have to go through what theyâ€™re facing, but they showed their strength. They played with passion and just beat us to the ball.
â€śFortunately, we were able to come together in the second half. We made some shots, rebounded better and hit some free throws at the end.â€ť
Rismeyer, a senior forward, finished with 12 points for the Pirates, who also got seven from Sam Weiland.
Besides Tylerâ€™s effort, Grafton got nine points from Caleb Keshemberg and eight from Kevin Collins.
McKenna, whose team lost its third straight game and fell to 2-5 in the conference and 5-8 overall, wasnâ€™t surprised by his playersâ€™ determination.
â€śWe talked about how Josh wore 32 on his uniform for a reason â€” because we should play hard for all 32 minutes of every game like he would have done,â€ť he said.
â€śWe got out of our offense a little bit in the second half and rushed some shots, but thatâ€™s because everyone wanted to win so bad. But thereâ€™s no faulting our effort because they gave it all they had.â€ť
This week, Grafton faced West Bend West on Tuesday and will resume conference play Friday by hosting Cedarburg at 7:30 p.m.
Also on Friday, Port will travel Milwaukee Lutheran for a 7:30 p.m. NSC game.
On Jan. 31, the Hawks play at Germantown while Port plays at Homestead.