Pat Kreke emphasized two words Wednesday night: No excuses.
Nobody would’ve blamed the veteran Fenwick High School boys basketball coach for being bitter about getting thrown into a legal whirlwind and then losing in a Division II sectional final, but Kreke didn’t want to go that route.
The Falcons dropped a 27-26 decision to Dunbar at the University of Dayton Arena. That’s the same Dunbar that played its way into the sectional final, then got booted by the Ohio High School Athletic Association for using an ineligible player, then got reinstated by a local judge.
GIRLS BASKETBALL: Lakota West 60, Walnut Hills 31
Fenwick juggled two game plans, one for Dunbar and one for Thurgood Marshall, and had to wait several extra days to play because of the court case. And then the season was over.
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“As high school coaches, we’re teaching life lessons, and one life lesson is that life isn’t fair all the time,” Kreke said. “It wasn’t fair to us this week. We got punished and didn’t do anything wrong. But there’s adversity everywhere.
“It was one of the things I was so proud of the kids for. They fought through the adversity. They practiced hard every day. They didn’t cry about it. We prepared as much as we could and came out and did our best. Dunbar was just one point better than us tonight.”
John Engelmeier scored a game-high 12 points for Fenwick, which won its first Greater Catholic League Coed North Division championship since 2014 and finished 17-7.
“That’s the last thing you want to see as a senior,” Engelmeier said of Wednesday’s defeat. “This senior class has people that worked so hard in the offseason to meet the expectations set for us. I think we exceeded those expectations.
“We shocked everyone in the GCL. We really wanted to keep turning heads, but everything good comes to an end. There’s nothing to hang our heads about. But we know it’s going to hurt for a long time.”
The sectional final was a strange ride, a game that had plenty of inaction.
The top-seeded Wolverines held the ball for roughly nine minutes — the last four of the third quarter and the first five of the fourth quarter — with a 24-22 lead as the Falcons declined to come out of their zone.
Fenwick, the No. 2 seed, finally came after Dunbar (19-4) in the last three minutes and had chances to win.
“I was expecting a decent scoring game, but it’s tournament time. You’ve got to do what you have to do to win the game,” Wolverines coach Chuck Taylor said. “We thought Fenwick did a good job packing it in on our big guy and our shots wouldn’t fall, so we just decided if we got a lead, we had to make those guys play man-to-man.
“We put the ball in their court. If they wanted to sit back, we were going to hold the ball.”
They did hold it for a long time and Kreke wanted to shorten the game, so both sides were happy to get to the last three minutes. At that point, Fenwick’s defense challenged Dunbar.
“I’m not second-guessing myself. When I watch the film, maybe I will,” Kreke said. “You look at Dunbar as an explosive offensive team, and 18-18 at the half is right where we wanted them. I really thought we were going to have to play better defense in the second half than the first because I didn’t think they had showed offensively what they really could do.
“I don’t think I had a lot of choices coming off the bench with the personnel that they had out there. So for them to give us the rest that I thought we could use, I think we did a great job with that. If the fouls were different, I might have gone even longer. But with three minutes left, you’ve got to go out there and get some fouls or they’re just going to run the clock out on you.”
The Falcons never regained the lead they held briefly in the third period, but the game went right down to the wire.
C.J. Napier was fouled on a 3-point attempt with 5.8 seconds left and sank the first two free throws to get Fenwick within 27-26, but he missed the third. Jonathan Allen rebounded for the Wolverines and was fouled, then he misfired on the front end of the bonus with 4.2 on the clock.
After a Joe Durham rebound and two timeouts with 3.5 seconds remaining, the Falcons had to go the length of the floor. Caleb Davis inbounded the ball to Napier, who was dribbling near halfcourt when he slipped and fell. Davis picked up the ball, but couldn’t get a shot off before the final buzzer.
“It wasn’t a good game to watch, but if I didn’t think it was working to our advantage, we’d have come out of the zone right away,” Kreke said. “I thought that was to our advantage, and we had a shot to win. I thought the kids played their butts off.”
Allen paced Dunbar with 7 points and six rebounds, and Napier totaled 6 points and five boards for Fenwick. The Wolverines shot 34.3 percent and the Falcons shot 34.8 percent from the field.
Dunbar advances to play Woodward in a 3 p.m. district final Saturday at Hamilton. Taylor said his players are highly motivated after getting a second chance in the tournament.
“I looked at a couple of my seniors, and they thought their season was over,” he said. “Once they found out we were back in, we had the best practice of the year yesterday.
“My job is to keep the guys’ hopes alive, and we tried to do that as a coaching staff. It was tough, I can’t lie about that. But God wins everything and we prevailed, we’re lucky to be here, and we took advantage of it.”
As for the battle with the OHSAA, Taylor said his team shouldn’t have been ousted from the tournament in the first place.
“We had a stalemate,” Taylor said. “We didn’t think they looked everything through, they said they did, and the court decided.”
Kreke, now 364-297 in 29 seasons at the Fenwick helm, said his seniors will be missed. That group includes Zach Lorei, Nick Braun, Jonathan Hoerlein, David Luers, Engelmeier and Durham.
“I’m so proud of my seniors,” Kreke said. “A lot of them didn’t see a whole lot of time on the floor, but they were busting their butts in every practice making us better. We preach that all the time. There’s 15 kids and seven or eight play most of the time, but it takes 15 to make a good team. It’s been a wonderful four years with those seniors.”
FENWICK (17-7): C.J. Napier 1 4 6, John Engelmeier 4 1 12, Joe Durham 2 2 6, Jonathan Hoerlein 1 0 2. Totals: 8-7-26
DUNBAR (19-4): Joseph Scates 3 0 6, Kadar Gardner 1 0 2, Michael Elmore 2 2 6, Jonathan Allen 3 1 7, Tavion Thomas 1 0 2, DaShaun Huffman 2 0 4. Totals: 12-3-27
3-pointers: F 3 (Engelmeier 3)