COLUMBUS – With Wilmington down six to Lima Senior with 13 seconds left Friday night, many of the 15,292 in attendance headed for the exits.
“We’re down 6 with 13 seconds to go and people are leaving the building,” Wilmington head coach Michael Noszka said. “They don’t know much about Wilmington.”
For those that do know Wilmington, they know the adversity that comes with a six-point deficit with 13 seconds left is just another challenge to conquer.
While Wilmington ended up three points short, the thousands dressed in orange, waving rally towels never wavered in support.
They believed in their team. A team that embodies the city of Wilmington.
It is a team that has won 90 times in four years. Only four times have they lost in the last two seasons. Wilmington has taken on all challengers.
They’ve battled and fought, even when faced with a significant deficit.
Wilmington overcame a 17-point deficit against Walnut Ridge at Flyin’ to the Hoop. Friday, they found themselves down 20 to a talented Lima Senior team led by Mr. Basketball and Michigan commit, Xavier Simpson.
“I remember looking up at the scoreboard when we were down 20,” Noszka said. “I said, ‘There’s just no way this can end this way.’ It didn’t. This group fought back.”
To those who call Wilmington home, such an effort is not only expected, but required. In a city that has faced such hardship, anything less than your best effort doesn’t cut it.
“We have a cause that’s a whole lot bigger than the people in that locker room,” Noszka said. “Our cause is our town. Our cause is our school. We told them when they came out for the second half to look up in the stands and look at that orange.”
Noszka has seen it before. In his youth, it was the Pennsylvania steel mills. On the sideline at Wilmington, it was DHL leaving town.
“I grew up in Pittsburgh when the steel mills got shut down,” Noszka said. “I think it was my third or fourth year here at Wilmington when DHL left. The toughness and the grit of that town is second to none.”
It’s not just that the Wilmington basketball team represents the city of Wilmington. They are the city of Wilmington.
“I think our basketball program is embedded in that town,” Noszka said. “It’s a heavy burden for kids to carry, but they do it extremely well. That’s why we have tough kids in our program because we have tough people in our town. I’m just proud to be part of it.”
The Hurricane picked up a little more adversity before heading to Columbus last week. In the win over Centerville, Alex Miller injured his elbow, ending his season.
“I thought it was something that pulled us together,” Noszka said. “You’re still missing a kid that’s probably going to get 10 rebounds for us, take some charges and be an inside presence for us.”
Even with Miller out of the lineup, and three of Wilmington’s starters playing a large part of the fourth quarter with four fouls, Wilmington still managed to have the ball with a chance to tie at the buzzer.
“I’m proud of what these kids have done,” Noszka said. “I think what beat us (Friday) is the only thing we’ve let beat us in this program, and that’s the clock.”
Lima Senior head coach Quincey Simpson said he knew the game was going to be about toughness.
“That game was what I expected it to be – a dogfight, a grudge match,” Simpson said. “One word to describe Wilmington that I would use would be ‘tough.’ The people that I talked to and the film that I saw, those guys never quit, and they had opportunities to in the first half when we made a little bit of a run.
“They just didn’t quit. It shows the character of those kids over there.”
For Noszka, the outpouring of support from the community has been overwhelming.
“I just want to thank the city of Wilmington for the way they’ve supported us,” Noszka said. “It’s second to none.”
Matt covers high school sports for the News Journal. Follow him on Twitter @mattsports.