POTTSVILLE - Former player Drae Lewis embraced Jahad Thomas as the senior Williamsport captain collapsed in his arms. All the effort, all the energy, all the sacrifice he and his teammates put into a memorable Williamsport season came pouring out.
A few feet away Isaiah Washington collapsed on the Martz Hall court where his brother and Williamsport assistant coach Jeremiah Washington picked him up and gave him encouraging words.
The Millionaires did not care that Chester was the two-time defending PIAA Class AAAA state champion. They were not awed by the Clippers' 75-game in-state winning streak or the series of postseason poundings they had delivered. Williamsport only believed that it would win.
Williamsport players watch the end of their loss to Chester Wednesday night in Pottsville.
When it did not happen, it hurt bad. Williamsport played Chester as well as any Pennsylvania team has all season and trailed by only two with six minutes remaining before the Clippers ended the game on a big run and won Wednesday's second round state tournament game, 67-50 at Martz Hall.
"We gave our best effort," Williamsport coach Allen Taylor said." Chester is a very good team. They have set the standard for Pennsylvania basketball.They are making young boys, young men so hat's off to Chester. They have an outstanding program."
So does Williamsport. The Millionaires (23-3) always believed they would win a state championship this season so many players were insconsolable after the game. Still, they raised the bar for future Williamsport teams and in doing so one day will be remembered as fondly as some of the state champion and state runner-up teams.
Two years ago Chester (26-3), which faces Great Valley in the quarterfinals, destroyed a Williamsport team featuring many of the current Millionaires by 40 points on its home court. All one had to do was watch Wednesday night's game to see how far these players have brought the program.
Williamsport led throughout the first quarter, threatened to overcome a 10-point late third-quarter deficit, and reached the state's second round for a second straight year. Two straight district championships and 41 wins in two years is impressive.
The way Williamsport achieved the milestones was even better. And names like Jahad Thomas, Chris Kinley, Achilles Watson, Herb Stelly, Greg Ousley, Thomas Ross and Brandon Fedoriw will not soon be forgotten.
"I'm proud of these guys because they put the work in, put the time in, made some sacrifices to put Williamsport basketball back as one of the best programs in the state," Taylor said.
"It was a great effort because nobody gave up at the end of the day," Watson said. "The last time we played them we were in 10th grade and they beat us by 40. To play like this tonight shows all the improvement we've made.
"It's always a great day to be a Millionaire, always,"?said Watson.
Thomas delivered another dazzling performance in his final game, scoring 21 points, grabbing nine rebounds and dealing three assists against a huge front line and the country's 20th-ranked team. He was unstoppable at times in the second half and helped Williamsport pull within 45-43 at the six-minute mark when he found Washington (12 points) for a jumper that capped a 6-0 run.
Washington scored six of his points in the fourth quarter and threw down a big dunk off a Herb Stelly alley-oop pass that sent most of the packed Martz Hall crowd into near delirium. Stelly played solid in his final game, dealing seven assists, including four in the first quarter when Williamsport opened a 15-12 lead.
Washington's jumper had the enthusiastic Williamsport crowd literally jumping for joy but James Kirksey scored on a putback seconds later. Chester then called a timeout and forced three straight Millionaire turnovers coming out that it converted into points. Just like that the lead was back to 10.
A Thomas putback pulled Williamsport within 53-45 midway through the fourth quarter, but Chester controlled things from there and clinched the win at the foul line. Arizona-bound Rondae Jefferson scored 21 points and grabbed 10 rebounds while Khalil Williams had nine points and four rebounds in the second quarter.
Williamsport defended Chester well but the Clippers dominated the offensive glass and that was the game's difference. Chester, with three players in its rotation 6-foot-6 or 6-7, used its size, speed and power to repeatedly get second-chance points and eight of Williams' second-quarter points came off putbacks as Chester opened a 31-25 lead.
Chester had not been challenged in quite some time, especially in the postseason, but responded like a state champion after Williamsport pulled within two, forcing seven turnovers over the final six minutes.
Despite that, Williamsport never backed down. The Millionaires took it right at Chester in the game's opening minutes and led 7-2 a little more than two m\inutes in. Even down 14 in the final 90 seconds, it still played like a team not hoping to come back, but believing it would find a way to like it had all season.
That relentless, determined mentality is the team's enduring legacy.
"These guys have seen what it takes," Watson said. "You have to work hard to compete with Chester and win a lot of games."
Washington is the only player in Williamsport's rotation coming back next year, but the cupboard is far from bare. The JV team went undefeated and the younger players have been soaking in the knowledge all season.
They have had some pretty good teachers.
"Hopefully our guys in the middle school level will have the same work ethic, put the same time in and leave the program in an even better situation then what my senior class has left it in now," Taylor said. "I have a number of guys who are academically getting it done and getting the opportunity to go to the next level. I'm very proud of this senior class and what they were able to accomplish on and off the court."
Jahad Thomas 10 2-6 22, Isaiah Washington 6 0-1 12, Chris Kinley 3 1-1 7, Achilles Watson 1 0-0 2, Herb Stelly 1 0-0 2, Greg Ousley 2 1-1 5, Thomas Ross 0 0-0 0, Brandon Fedoriw 0 0-0 0. Totals 23 4-9 50
Rondae Jefferson 5 11-16 21, Richard Granberry 4 0-4 8, Darius Robinson 3 0-0 7, Rashan DeJarnette 3 2-2 8, Conrad Chambers 3 0-0 6, James Kirksey 4 0-0 8, Khalil Williams 4 1-2 9. Totals 27 14-24 67.
Williamsport15 10 14 11-50
Chester16 15 14 12-67
3-pointers: Chester 1 (Robinson).
Records: Chester 26-3. Williamsport 23-3.