SHARON — You can play well, you can play smart, and you can play with all you possess. Yet sometimes you still come up short.

And there ends the season for the General McLane boys basketball team. On Tuesday night at Sharon High School, the Lancers faced WPIAL champion Hampton in the second round of the PIAA Class AAA playoffs.

McLane lost. And Hampton moves to the state quarterfinals after beating the Lancers, 58-53. However, afterwards McLane head coach Andy Schulz had very little to say that wasn’t on the bright side.

“They have nothing else to give,” Schulz said about his squad. “They’ve done everything I’ve asked. Hampton is an excellent team and they deserve everything that they get. And I couldn’t be prouder of the group of kids I have in the lockerroom right now.

“We followed the game plan,” he continued. “The kids did everything we asked them to do. Hampton, tonight, was just a little bit better. And it’s not because of a lack of effort. ... They tried as hard as they could. And as a coach, you can’t ask more than that.”

It was an especially rewarding run for Schulz and the Lancers. They finished the year 17-10, they won Region 6, were runners-up in District 10 and were just two buckets away from the state quarterfinals. All this after graduating four starters from the year before, and starting the current campaign with an ugly 2-7 record.

“I’ve told our kids from the beginning of the year when we were 2-7 until now, I think that we can play with anyone,” Schulz said. “And obviously we proved that. This team has improved more than any other team I’ve coached.”

Last night, that much-improved McLane was faced with a particularly tall challenge — tall being the key word.

Hampton (24-4) started a front court that included 6-foot-6 forward Tim Donegan and 6-7 guard/forward William Luther. Plus, first off the bench for the Talbots was 6-8 Todd Brown.

Yet McLane, whose tallest guy is 6-4 Kyle Shuman, was not cowed by Hampton’s size.

“No,” said Schulz, “we weren’t intimidated.”

In fact, McLane ended up out-rebounding the Talbots 26-23. Luther and Brown were held to just four points in the second half. And — looking at the big picture — the out-sized Lancers very nearly sent the towering Talbots packing.

Hampton led for most of the first half. McLane was originally ahead 8-4, but the Talbots knocked down three straight 3-pointers by three different shooters to pull ahead. They would finish the first period up 15-11.

Hampton’s best lead was nine points (29-20) with 2:35 to play. However, McLane finished the second quarter with a five-point run, cutting the Talbots’ advantage to four points (29-25) going into the half.

McLane closed the gap in the third quarter. Nick Lombardo sunk a 3-pointer with 2:55 remaining in the period to give the Lancers their first lead since the first quarter at 36-35. The two teams would then trade the lead five times going into the fourth quarter.

Hampton took the lead for the final time at 44-43 with 6:10 to ply. Yet, McLane was never more than one or two buckets away for the entire game. Donegan had a big fourth quarter for Hampton, scoring seven of his 11 points. And guard Matt Madia went 5-of-5 from the free throw line down the stretch to seal the win.

“In the second half, whenever General McLane took the lead, I thought our kids gained their composure again, came back and ended up getting some opportunistic baskets,” said Hampton coach Joe Lafko. “Tim Donegan made some shots on a couple fast breaks. And Matt Madia made his free throw down the stretch. And those were all critical parts of winning this basketball game. Close games like this are won or lost at the free throw line.”

Madia ended up leading the Talbots on the scoreboard with 21 points. Luther scored 17.

“It was a battle tonight,” said Lafko. “I give our guys a lot of credit. They gutted it out, played with a lot of intensity for the majority of the game. And they found a way to win it at the end.”

For McLane, Lombardo paced the Lancers with 18 points while grabbing six rebounds. Shuman and Dom DiVito each had 15 points. Shuman had eight boards, DiVito had five.

“I was proud of the senior leadership and I was proud of our effort,” said Schulz. “I don’t think we could have played harder and I don ‘t think we could have played much better. We missed a couple shots, a couple foul shots and a couple shots in the fourth quarter.

“And I think if we made those, we could have easily won the game. But Hampton is a very good team. And we battled them and gave them everything we could give.”

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