DUBLIN — For the West Bladen Knights, the 2015-16 season was the best of times and the worst of times.
Coach Travis Pait’s Knights finished the season with a 20-8 overall mark, 9-5 in the Four County Conference. And while he is happy with another 20-win season, he can’t help but think about what might have been.
“When Kalvin Page broke his hand, it really changed how we played and it showed with our rotation and on defense,” he said. “If you look at how we were playing through the (Christmas) tournaments, then how we finished the season, it’s easy to see the difference.
“And when we won our Christmas tournament, he really was a big part of the reason — if not THE reason in two of those games,” he added.
Pait also knows that, for the first half of the season, the Knights may have been playing above their heads.
“We overachieved, certainly,” he said. “And that probably gave people some unrealistic expectations. But when we lost to Pender (Jan. 6), I knew we weren’t as good as everyone was thinking.”
Still, West Bladen finished the conference schedule with a four-game winning streak, then won the first two games of the conference tournament to reach the finals — a game that pit the Knights against a Clinton team they had already beaten twice during the regular season. This time, however, the Dark Horses prevailed by 13.
The Knights then got a tough draw in the state’s Class 2-A playoffs, losing in the first round to Goldsboro, 88-69.
“We gave a couple games away, but also won some big ones,” Pait said. “I’m not satisfied with how the season ended, but I’m very happy with the progress we showed.”
And Pait is excited about next season.
“We have a majority of minutes per game coming back,” he said, “although filling Stefan’s shoes will be tough.”
West Bladen will lose point guard Stefan McDonald, who scored at a 16 points per game clip, along with post player Will Lambeth, post player Malique McDowell and guard Michael Guyton.
Returning, however, will be a nucleus of starters that include junior Sayaun Dent, 13.7 points per game; junior John Bowen, 11.5 points per game; and sophomore Shaquille Johnson, 10.0 points per game.
Also returning will be sophomore Jonathan Robinson, Page (a junior), sophomore Jimmy Williams and freshman Keyshawn Lewis.
“Honestly, if you’d told me before the season we would start out 11-1, win those holiday tournaments and finish with 20 wins, I would have been very happy,” Pait said. “But I know we can get better, and we will get better.”
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.