CUYAHOGA FALLS — It’s a conversation every coach dreads.
For Cuyahoga Falls head boys basketball coach Kenny Johnson, it was a discussion that absolutely tore him to pieces.
"It’s always the hardest talk to do," Johnson said.
Saying goodbye is never easy. In this case, Johnson’s beleaguered Black Tigers went through every imaginable obstacle during this trying season.
They survived every one of them. But now, in the blink of an eye, it’s over.
As for the opponent, it has another game to play. And that particular showdown happens to be a much-anticipated rematch with a longtime rival.
The Black Tigers’ 2018-19 season came to an end after losing to host Walsh Jesuit 65-49 Wednesday in the R.J. Nemer Family Dome.
The sixth-seeded Warriors (12-9), who have taken on all comers throughout the season, are scheduled to pay a visit to third-seeded Archbishop Hoban Saturday. Game time is set for 7 p.m. The Knights defeated their North Coast League Blue Division rival 59-54 Jan. 29 in Akron.
As for Falls, it was the end to a season that featured more than 70 days without a victory. The Black Tigers finished 2-21 this winter, but they had a knack for making their more talented opponents fidgety down the stretch.
That included a well-disciplined and deep Walsh team.
"They played great recently," first-year Warriors head coach Kevin Byrne said of Falls. "I was really impressed with how they hung in this season.
"It’s hard when you’re not winning many games. Even though the results weren’t necessarily there, they have plenty. If you don’t come to play, they can certainly turn it into a very close game."
Walsh did "come to play" on this night. As a result, the Black Tigers didn’t have much of a chance against the Warriors’ endless array of bodies.
Using their starters for much of the way in the first quarter, the Warriors built a 17-10 lead.
Byrne switched to four other members of his fertile bench in the second period.
Alas, that only made matters worse for Falls.
Playing with just as much energy and explosion as the first unit, Walsh’s reserves kept the engine humming in the next eight minutes.
The Warriors, who attacked the rim mercilessly before tossing the ball back to the perimeter for never-ending wide-open 3-point shots, led 35-19 at halftime.
"We got off to a nice start, but that second group came in and gave us nice energy," Byrne said. "We were able to stretch the lead out and really get some separation there. I have full confidence in those guys.
"There have been times when I played that second group a lot. Those guys have been out there in the big games. They’ve made big plays and big shots. I have full confidence to get them out there."
Thanks to this abundance of athletes running full speed endlessly, Walsh built its advantage to 23 (49-26) late in the third quarter.
However, the Black Tigers, knowing their sense of urgency was at an all-time high, made one final ambush to salvage any hope of extending their critically endangered season.
Falls went all-in with a full-court pressure defense that featured lots of traps.
It worked beautifully.
The Black Tigers forced some turnovers and when senior Alex Miller canned a pair of free throws, Walsh’s insurmountable lead was trimmed to a somewhat nerve-racking 12 (58-46) with approximately 2:30 left.
"It was indicative of how our seniors were all year," Johnson said. "When you’re 2-20, it would have been easy for those seniors to quit or give up on the season. They never did."
Byrne felt obliged to use a timeout to stop the bleeding. And that was just what the doctor ordered.
The rejuvenated Warriors recharged their batteries to get a few steals and fast-break layups in a blur to regain control.
Junior guard Donovan Morris, who was easily the fastest player on the floor, scored 14 points to lead Walsh. Senior guard Tom Cummings, who also had a knack for blowing by defenders, added 12 points for the Warriors.
Junior guard Maison Ross and sophomore forward Erik Stern, who dealt with some first-half foul troubles, contributed 10 and nine points, respectively, for Walsh.
Senior guard James Moore, who was Falls’ leading scorer during the season, finished with 13 points and freshman point guard Deon Horn scored 12 points for the Black Tigers.
After the game, Johnson couldn’t hold back his emotions when it came to his weary and heartbroken players.
"I’m proud of this whole group," Johnson said. "After going what they went through, they stuck around and kept playing hard. They’re just good kids."
Johnson also had the dreaded "talk" to a certain five individuals. They were Miller, Moore and fellow seniors Dai Dai Brazile (guard), Joey Canterbury (guard), who was injured and did not play, and Noah Koehler (forward).
"They came every day," Johnson said. "They worked hard even when we started getting some of our younger kids in later in the season. They supported them."
"It’s hard because you know you have kids for three and four years who you really love and you have to say goodbye to them. I’m going to miss them."