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State dreams denied: ‘For the rest of their lives, they’re just never gonna know whether it was possible or not’

Photo from Kyle Ruggery Twitter

Editor’s note: As high school basketball teams are getting set to begin practice for a new season, we take a look back at the disappointing way last season ended for one local team.

Not getting to play was tough. Having the opportunity stolen away was brutal. But perhaps the most difficult part will always be not knowing how things would have turned out and if they were good enough.

The Bishop Guilfoyle boys basketball team had a chance to win the Class 2A state title last year. The Marauders had an excellent team and a 25-3 record, and they were getting set for the third round of the PIAA playoffs in mid-March.

Then came COVID, and that was that. The playoffs were delayed and delayed, then ultimately canceled, leaving the BG boys wondering what might have been.

“I believe that our team had the skill and mentality to have a chance to win the state championship,” Kyle Ruggery, a member of last year’s team, told NSN on Friday. “It will always haunt me, and I wish we had the chance to try again at Hershey.”

Marauders coach Chris Drenning joined my radio show, “Sports Central,” on WRTA on Friday and discussed the disappointment of having the dream of a state championship taken away. And that came a year after BG had suffered a heartbreaking 54-52 loss in the state title game.

“It was very difficult,” Drenning said when asked how the playoffs being canceled impacted everyone. “It’s more difficult for the kids. I mean, we’re adults, and we get to come back and coach.

“We had four seniors who started the year before in the state final, and they wanted a chance of redemption, and we as the program liked our chances of getting back there. And they’re never going to know.

“We had seven seniors total, and they were all great kids. And for the rest of their lives, they’re just never gonna know whether it was possible or not.”

LISTEN: BG coach Chris Drenning discusses the tough ending to last season:

“Having our season cut short was so difficult on all of us,” Ruggery said. “We worked so hard for four years, and not getting a chance our senior year to play for a state championship really hurts to this day. Especially when you lose by 2 points the year before, and never getting a chance again to get those two points back.”

Not only did the BG players have to deal with heartache of the playoffs being stopped, they also had to deal with the uncertainty that followed for weeks afterward as everyone held out hope that play could resume at some point.

“One of the hardest things was that we just didn’t know,” Drenning said. “When we stopped, we thought it was gonna be for two weeks. And then it was going to be sometime in April or, May, encourage the kids to work out on their own if they can or go outside or whatever to try to keep them engaged. Because it just felt like we kept kicking the can down the road, and eventually in May they called it off. You just feel for the kids because they’re never gonna to get that opportunity back.

What was Drenning’s level of confidence that BG could have won the state title?

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“That’s difficult to say,” he said. “We were gonna play Sto-Rox next. We had beaten them by I think 34 or something like that the year before in the playoffs. We felt good about that game. And we were probably gonna play Our Lady of Sacred Heart again. We played them and beat them in the western final two years ago in one of the great games you’ve ever seen. It came down to they missed at the buzzer, and we won by one.

“We felt like with our lineup and the way we could distribute the ball, we were going to be very tough to beat.”

Drenning mentioned that he’s had people come up and tell him, “Hey, at least you won your last game.”

But that’s no consolation.

“I said, ‘Look, I’d have rather lost by 50, at least we’d know.’ Maybe that’s a hard concept for people to grasp. But the hardest part for the kids is they’re going to be saying at 10-year reunions, 20-year reunions, What if? They’re just never gonna know.
“To have it taken away from you by something out of your control … that’s part of the game. But nobody ever told these guys that COVID was gonna be part of the game,” Drenning added.

Drenning said he doesn’t think acceptance of what happened is going to come any time soon for the players.

“We’re just frustrated that they didn’t get a chance to fulfill the dream that they put all the work into.”

WATCH: An excellent story by WTAJ on the BG boys from earlier this year:

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Cory Giger is a 15-year veteran of the Penn State beat and a journalist with 28 years of experience. He has won more than 100 state and national journalism awards during his career, plus he's a voter for the Heisman Trophy in football and Wooden Award in basketball.

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