When the Division I Alliance District state tournament began, the highly anticipated matchup in the district finals was Boardman versus Warren G. Harding.
The All-American Conference Red Tier rivals split a pair of contests this season, so the third game, in a "winner-take-all" format, would be a barnburner.
The fourth-seeded Raiders kept up their end of the bargain when they upset top-seeded Akron Ellet, 67-57, in the district semifinal game.
The Spartans were ushered out of the playoffs by number two-seed Uniontown Lake, 62-52, in the semifinal March 9 at Alliance High School. Boardman finished the 2016-17 season with a 19-5 record and a failed chance at another showdown with the Raiders.
"It is definitely disappointing to wake up and realize we do not get another practice or game," Boardman head coach Pat Birch said. "Getting that rubber match with Warren would have been special, especially considering it would have been for a district championship."
The Spartans started out OK in the semifinal, trailing just 14-10 after one quarter. High-powered Lake increased that lead to 31-23 at halftime, mainly due to Boardman's inability to secure second shots. Lake outrebounded the local kids, 34-19, including 18 second-chance points.
"Rebounding ended up being the major statistical difference," Birch said. "Lake did a good job taking us out of our offensive rhythm."
Boardman didn't do any better on the boards or from the floor in the third quarter either. A 9-point period put the Spartans in a 15-point hole heading into the last quarter.
Despite outscoring the Blue Streaks, 20-15, in the fourth frame, Boardman already was a beaten bunch.
Seniors John Ryan, Sebastian Heinonen, Travis Koontz, Coleman Stauffer and Austin Barone all played their final high school games against Lake. Ryan had the largest night of any of the future graduates with 17 points. Barone and Heinonen scored four points each. Stauffer scored two points.
This Spartan squad certainly was senior led, but other kids who did well all season should be back next winter. Juniors Mike Melewski and Holden Lipke made enormous impacts since the start of the season and will be two of the Spartans' leaders next year.
Melewski ended this season with 10 points versus Lake. Lipke left Alliance with seven points. Sophomore point guard Che Trevena was a revelation this year and his eight-point effort last week elicits hope that his junior campaign should be even better.
Although their season ended short of their aspirations, the Spartan basketball program still enjoyed a renaissance. Boardman's 19 wins were the most it had in ages and its run to the district semifinals was the first one in 16 seasons.
Those accomplishments allowed the coach to ignore the loss to Lake and feel proud when reminiscing about the regular season.
"Overall, this season will be remembered as a tremendous success," Birch said. "We did not officially win any trophies or banners, but the energy and passion this team invoked in our community and school was awesome. It will mean more down the road than a trophy."
Harding advanced to Saturday's district final game against Uniontown Lake.
Though the Raiders beat Lake in last year's title game, 48-42, the Raiders faced a 59-56 overtime loss to the Blue Streaks (19-6), ending their season 18-8.
Uniontown Lake battled Garfield Heights (21-4) Wednesday at Cleveland State University Wolstein Center.