Craig Martin didn’t want to come out of the locker room.
First 15 minutes passed, then 20, then 30.
Finally, 36 minutes after the Myrtle Beach’s basketball team lost to Darlington and Falcons fans rushed the Seahawks home court, the coach exited the locker room following a game one more time this season.
Myrtle Beach fell to Darlington 46-45 Tuesday night in the third round of the Class AAA playoffs, ending the team’s season at 15-12.
All that time in the locker room, however, was a direct reflection of how close he has become with a senior class that has been through more than its share of ups and downs.
“It hurts now, and it’ll hurt 30 years from now,” Martin said of his post-game speech to his players. “It won’t go away. … It should hurt. If you don’t commit to something, it doesn’t mean anything to you. It’s not a big deal. They fought for something, and these seniors got it taken away. If it didn’t hurt, we wouldn’t be doing our job.”
The Seahawks’ post-game emotions were still visible in bloodshot eyes and shaky voices. It was a result of Darlington connecting on its final shot – a James Richardson jumper with 28.5 seconds remaining – while Myrtle Beach guard Nolin Butler’s last-second attempt at a game-winning 3-pointer deep beyond the arc clanked off the rim.
It ended a back-and-forth game that had fans from both teams crammed into the Myrtle Beach gym. Both squads had exhibited runs, and both teams made their share of mistakes.
However, neither was able to prevent the end-of-game dramatics.
Richardson, who scored a combined 53 points in Darlington’s first two playoff games, made sure his presence was ultimately felt in a third.
“We’re limited with our talent, but he’s able to do a lot of things with the basketball,” Falcons coach Ken Howle said. “We just kind of put it in his hands.
“I don’t know how we won. We didn’t run anything, really. They didn’t let us get into any kind of offense. But we just scraped and clawed and were able to come out with it.”
Richardson finished with a game-high 18 points. No Myrtle Beach players finished in double figures, although six different Seahawk guards did connect on 3-pointers.
Darlington will move on to face fellow Region VI-AAA team Hartsville in Saturday’s Lower State finals in Florence. The Falcons split the region slate with Hartsville, and the Red Foxes, the defending Class AAA champs, won a third meeting this year during a December tournament.
Myrtle Beach, though, was left to start reminiscing about everything the team’s five departing seniors have done to rebuild a program. After all, it was this time two years ago that the Seahawks were disqualified from playoff contention for what the South Carolina High School League had deemed to be an illegal preseason practice.
Martin and Co. used the year to test players’ dedication to the program, and for the most part, everyone stuck around.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all,” Martin said. “It was a situation that looked worse than it really was. I would have been disappointed if those kids had quit. But it doesn’t surprise me that they didn’t. They’re loyal, and that’s what we want.”
In many ways, then, what Butler and four classmates did was help start something new. Myrtle Beach won two playoff games, including an upset of No. 1 seed Orangeburg-Wilkinson, and advanced further in the postseason than any of Martin’s first three Seahawk squads.
“The program’s definitely on the rise,” Butler said. “We have a lot of good players coming up for next year and the year’s after that. I think we have a good foundation for the future of the program.”
• DARLINGTON (46) – James Richardson 18, Markus Williams 11, Cayland Howard 9, Frankie Johnson 6, Quentin Sims 2
• MYRTLE BEACH (45) – Soloman Cooper 9, Nolin Butler 8, Coleman Martini 6, Tyshame Lewis 5, Mason Lewis 5, Tyronne Cooper 4, Wayne Vereen 3, Rivers Singleton 3, Nick Wunder 2
• Records: Darlington 19-6, Myrtle Beach 15-12