PENINSULA — Prior to the season, T.J. Henderson had a private get together with quite a few of his favorite teenagers.
Without wasting much time, the third-year Aurora head boys basketball coach decided to give them a rather blunt message.
Particularly his most talented player.
“I told Ethan in front of the team, ‘We’re going to need about 20 points a game,’” Henderson said.
The gentleman Henderson referred to was his slashing extraordinaire, Ethan Hays, a gifted senior guard who led the Greenmen in scoring the previous season.
If you’re wondering if Henderson singled out his star player for his “green” machine to operate properly, think again. He also had made a rather clear-cut statement to Hays’ less-heralded teammates.
“We need two or three others to get double digits and we’ll be scary,” Henderson said. “If you don’t have that, it’s very difficult to win.”
For much of the season, Henderson’s team wasn’t particularly scary. Not at all, as a matter of fact.
The Aurora players endured losing streaks of four, five and eight games, respectively, during what was considered a “winter of their discontent.”
Unlike William Shakespeare’s Richard III, though, a “glorious summer” was nowhere to be found on West Pioneer Trail.
How low did it go?
At one point, the Greenmen lost 12 of 13 games. As late as Feb. 18, Aurora limped to a dismal 4-16 record.
Fortunately for the Greenmen, their woeful season, which featured numerous defeats that were decided in the fourth quarter, has made a stunning turnaround.
Just in the nick of time too.
Tenth-seeded Aurora earned its third consecutive victory after defeating seventh-seeded Woodridge 61-56. The Stow Division II sectional semifinal game took place Tuesday at Woodridge High School in Peninsula.
With the win, the Greenmen earned a third showdown with second-seeded Revere. That sectional final contest is scheduled to take place Friday in Bath Township. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.
Not surprisingly, Hays, who has once again tickled the twine with unequivocal ease, led the way with a game-high 18 points.
More importantly, his coach’s ultimate basketball fantasy became a stunning reality.
To take a page from former Beatle Ringo Starr, Hays, who was face-guarded by the pesky Bulldogs for much of the evening, “got by with a little help from his friends.”
Senior forward Lenny Feckner, who converted five pivotal foul shots late in the game, finished with 15 points. Sweet-shooting junior guard Gabe Elsawy contributed 10 points and senior guard Jack Deptola added eight points for Aurora.
“The last three games, we’ve had three or four guys in double figures, along with Ethan scoring like he normally does,” Henderson said. “Ethan gets that off transition, off other kids scoring to open it up. When we play like that, it’s fun to watch. You can key on one, but you can’t key on all five.”
Of course, when you’re blessed with a massive array of skills like Hays has, the silky smooth guard can turn into a superhero from time to time.
For about a 30-second stretch late in the second quarter, “Flash” may have been the appropriate description for the Greenmen’s tank-top wearing crusader. Hays turned the game on its head in a blur as he buried three consecutive 3-pointers to give Aurora a 32-21 lead.
The Bulldogs, who suffered a 77-47 thumping to the Greenmen earlier in the season, came back firing in the second half and actually took a five-point lead (45-40).
Unlike several other occasions, though, Aurora’s feisty scrappers barely blinked.
The Greenmen wound up regaining their advantage for good with a crushing 14-0 run that concluded midway through the fourth quarter.
Oddly enough, Hays scored just two points during that game-changing flurry. What’s more shocking is this: They were his only points of the second half.
“It showed that we can close out the game,” Hays said. “We’ve been here before. We’ve won some, we’ve lost some this year.
“One thing about our team is we stick together. We’re clicking at the right time. I think we’re confident. We came in focused.”
Hays stayed focused even though his “bucket list” disappeared mysteriously in the second half.
How did that happen? Let’s just say the Bulldogs didn’t need a map to find him.
You couldn’t see them, but Woodridge had surveillance cameras all over the gym to pick up his scent. And even though Hays likely doesn’t wear perfume, the Bulldogs treated his jersey number as if it were Chanel No., well, 5.
“In the second half, they started face-guarding me,” Hays said. “That opened it up for other kids, which showed. Lenny had a huge second half. He had a bunch of big rebounds in the end to close it out.”
Hays and Co. have been able to “close it out” three times in a row. Better yet, they have at least one more deal to close.
Prior to its very satisfying sectional triumph, Aurora, which has lost five games by five points or less, got some-much needed momentum with wins over Nordonia and Copley.
By the way, the Indians recently handed the Minutemen their only Suburban League American Conference loss of the season.
“I think it meant a lot for our team,” Hays said. “It was hard all season, being in all of those close games and losing them. I think it was hard for us, mentally. To get those two wins, that was big going into the tournament.”
Getting a fourth win will be a tall order for the upstart Greenmen. Revere, an American Conference juggernaut ever since the Suburban League became a two-conference, 15-team format in 2015, is 19-2 thus far.
The Minutemen have been particularly ruthless to the boys in green.
In their two forgettable showdowns, Revere outscored the Greenmen by a combined total of 45 points.
Perhaps another get together was in store for Henderson and his troops after Tuesday’s game.
It’s a safe bet the star player would certainly approve. He can only hope their next intimate conversation will be similar to the last one.
“I think the only people who believe are the 15 in the locker room,” Hays said.
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, email@example.com or @FrankAceto_Gannett.