CINCINNATI — There was supposed to be a wild celebration. After all, it has been 89 years in the making since Wilmington High School’s boys basketball last advanced to the state tournament.
But there were no fans spilling on to Xavier University’s floor following a 48-28 blistering of Centerville Saturday in the Div. I Cincinnati Regional championship game.
The players didn’t jump for joy. Maybe that’s because WHS turned around a 2-0 Centerville lead with 17 unanswered points. Game over. Thanks for coming. We have some “lovely”’ parting gifts for you.
There was no drama. The outcome was never in doubt.
As the finals seconds ticked off the scoreboard clock, the Wilmington High School boys basketball team and its fans were simply getting confirmation of what they had suspected all game long. Heck, maybe all season long.
They were headed to Columbus for the state Final Four.
But despite being the first WHS basketball team in school history … let me repeat that … the first WHS basketball team in school history to make the state Final Four, things were eerily subdued inside the cavernous Cintas Center around 8:30 Saturday night.
Don’t get me wrong.
There were plenty of smiles, a few hand slaps and a congratulatory hug or two in the aftermath of the 20-point win. But it was more like somebody had just won the 50-cent pot at the local bingo game.
Hardly what you’d expect after erasing 89 years of anguish for the orange and black faithful.
Amid the celebrating that did take place, there was one thing noticeably missing. One person, actually. And the main reason the luster had been wiped off the shiny trophy presentation for the Hurricane.
“A lot of it had to do with Alex Miller,” said WHS junior Chris Wolary.
One of three Hurricane players who has been through four years of intense practices and high-energy games, Miller was probably at a Cincinnati hospital by the time assistant coach Brian Long pulled the braided cord from the orange cylinder and swung it over his head.
During the third period Saturday, with WHS dominating its regional rival, Miller got tangled up with one of the Elks and went down hard near the Centerville bench. Miller’s face scrunched momentarily as the pain coursed through his body.
CHS coach Brook Cupps was as close as any non-player.
“That really made my stomach sick,” Cupps said.
Miller writhed in pain on the floor briefly, then picked himself up and headed directly to the locker room, holding his left arm in such a way that everyone present had the same sinking feeling as Cupps.
“It’s no fun when someone goes down like that,” said Miller’s teammate Cameron Stewart.
Miller is a 6-4 senior post player. He missed several games at the beginning of the season because of an injury to his right arm he sustained during football season.
“It’s just not fair, especially him getting better coming back from his other injury,” said WHS assistant coach Nick Molz.
Said Jarron Cumberland, “He’s really a big leader to our team. He means a lot to us.”
Wilmington head coach Michael Noszka, like others, seemed to be forcing a smile as he made the rounds with the well-wishers at the game.
“This is a little bit of a downer,” Noszka admitted in the bowels of Cintas with a horde of reporters asking questions about the euphoria of gaining a berth in the state tournament. “I don’t feel bad for ourselves but I feel bad for Alex. You coach for kids like Alex.”
Miller is the epitome of a Noszka basketball player. Smart, hard-working, tough on the floor.
“When he hurt his other arm in football, Dr. (Tim) Kremchek said Alex would be back in mid-January. Alex was back Dec. 22 against Cov Cath,” Noszka said, this time with a smile that came naturally as he was talking about his senior captain. “He worked his tail off.”
In the locker room, Noszka had written the names of 13 former Hurricane players on the dry erase board. Those players were part of the basketball program during the coach’s 11-year tenure at WHS,
“The foundation (of this team) is anybody who has had a part in this program since I came here 11 years ago,” Noszka said. “Colt (Briggs), Jordan (Berlin) and Marty (Beaugard) were in the locker room. We tell our kids now this is bigger than you, it’s a bigger cause.”
With Miller questionable for the state tournament, Noszka admits, “Our cause just got bigger.”
Reach Mark Huber at 937-556-5765, or on Twitter @wnjsports.