Burlington Central has much to be proud of
Sports are full of woulda coulda shouldas.
Add Burlington Central's 57-55 loss to Rockford Boylan in Friday night's Class 3A Woodstock North sectional championship boys basketball game to the list.
There were at least two times in the second half when it clearly appeared the Rockets had the upper hand, holding as much as a 7-point lead and visions of the program's first sectional title not seeming all that far off.
But down the stretch Boylan, and senior point guard Ben Ambrose in particular, showed its mettle -- its experience this season in close games, and its experience in the postseason in general, in holding off the Rockets, who came thisclose to moving to the Elite Eight round for the first time.
To clarify, before we go further, Central had played in two previous sectional title games -- in 2001 and 2003 under coach Mike Schmidt. But that was pre-four classes so technically this is the first BC team to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
There have been six others -- 1975, 1978, 2000, 2004, 2005 and 2008 -- who advanced to sectional play but lost in the semifinals.
So, yes, this Burlington team will be remembered as the first to reach the Sweet Sixteen. Its 28 wins are also a program record.
But more important than that is the legacy the seniors from this team will leave, a benchmark for future Central teams to aspire to reach. Along the way there were championships at the Plano Christmas Classic, their own MLK Tournament and, of course, in the Kishwaukee River Conference.
"It was definitely the best (team) ever to come through this school," said senior Michael Kalusa, who hit five 3-pointers on his way to a team-high 17 points Friday night.
"The community will remember forever this was the best basketball team. We played for the community and I'm glad we got to this point."
Kalusa was one of seven seniors -- the others being Zach Schutta, Dejsani Beamon, Caden Scott, Javyon Johnson, William Hough and Michael Pearson -- who drew nothing but praise from their coach, Brett Porto, despite the disappointing sting of the loss.
"It's a special group," said Porto, who played on the 2003 sectional finalist and is now 171-87 in his nine seasons as Rockets' head coach.
"A lot of these guys have been practicing with me since they were freshmen. They've put in a ton of time and they've really grown and developed."
Porto pointed to an 80-12 record the past three seasons as proof of that statement, and even though they had regional final heartbreaks the past two seasons, reaching the Sweet Sixteen this year does hold some form of vindication.
"I just hope the kids and the community can look back and be really proud," Porto said. "We have a lot of 3-4 year guys on this team who have put in a lot of practices, a lot of games, a lot of summer games, to get to this point. They can be proud. They're leaving a great legacy."
Schutta may be leaving the greatest individual legacy the program has seen. He will graduate as the program's all-time leading scorer and, having played on varsity as a freshman, a participant in 94 wins in four years.
"We left a legacy," Schutta said after scoring his final 14 Rocket points Friday. "No team in Central history has gone this far. This is a team and season the school and the community will never forget."
It's also a team and a season future Central basketball players will hope to become as good as, or better.
"Central basketball has a bright future," Schutta said. "Incoming kids have something to look forward to with a great coach and a great program."
And one that, when all the woulda coulda shoulda feelings wear off, will realize how very special this season truly was.