Independence seniors Matt Smith, Raja Milton and AJ McKee wrapped up their four-year career with a disappointing overtime loss to Ardrey Kell on March 2.
But that’s not what Patriot fans will remember.
They’ll remember this: The trio came into the program the season after the Patriots went 8-16, an aberration on coach Preston Davis’ 10-year resume.
Together, they produced four 20-plus win seasons.
In all, they won 96 games in a Independence uniform. Along with senior starter Miles Pauldin and reserves Amonti Burton, Khalid Grissett and Jaelyn Lewis, they combined to win two conference tournament champions, an outright conference title, a shared conference title and a couple of runner-up 10-2 seasons.
They went 31-1 and won the ultimate prize last season with Milton, Pauldin and McGee playing huge roles.
This year, with the addition of senior starter Tyler Harris, much was expected of the Patriots even with their daunting schedule full of regional and national powerhouses.
But the Patriots never flinched.
They lost some games – to NCISAA 3A finalist Village Christian; to 30-1 Keenan, which is South Carolina’s No.1-ranked team; and to Salesian, the No. 5-ranked team in Maxpreps.com’s national poll.
But they beat some great teams including nationally ranked Carmel Christian at their place. They beat Olympic, took out Myers Park three times, defeated Roman Catholic, the No. 2-ranked team in Pennsylvania and finished tied with Butler for their second straight Southwestern 4A title.
They almost beat Ardrey Kell and kept their season going.
Smith played a heck of a final game, and if the tip of his finger was a quarter inch longer maybe he blocks Royce Jarrett’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer that sent the defending champions out of the NCHSAA tournament in the Sweet 16.
But as Smith and a couple of his teammates lay on the court after the horn sounded and with Ardrey Kell players celebrating with their student section and fans on Independence’s home court, Davis came to pick each of them up.
It was the worst way to probably go out, but that shot will not define what these seniors have meant to the Patriots.
I think all would agree they may be gone, but they will not soon be forgotten.