I feel like I have written this before.
Oh wait, I have.
Athens almost wrote the same story for itself in the sectional championship this season as it did last.
Then I really would have written the story again.
When Athens came back from eight points down in the fourth quarter Friday against Vinton County, and had a chance to take the lead with 7.8 seconds left at the free throw line, the story could have really went the same way.
But, eventually, seasons come to an end. Five seniors will never put on the green and gold Bulldog jersey again. Those five seniors are Micah Saltzman, Robert Dickelman, Dalton Cozart, Austin Koska and Nathan Whitehead.
The Bulldogs, however, return four starters from the lineup that got them to the brink of winning sectionals and playing in The Convo for the district tournament.
Three of those returning four starters will be seniors: Logan Maxfield, Eli Chubb and Justin Hynes.
Those three led the team in scoring against Vinton County; Maxfield scored 12, Chubb led with 16 and Hynes had 11.
So, even with the departure of five seniors, the Bulldogs appear to be in pretty good shape.
Through two seasons with coach Mickey Cozart at the helm, the Bulldogs have finished second the the Tri-Valley Conference Ohio twice.
This season, even though the season ended one game shorter than last, might be more impressive.
The Bulldogs started the season 0-3, went to 3-9 and finished 12-10.
A rough start followed by a nine-game winning streak in which Mickey got his first win as Athens coach against Vinton County — the team that has won the TVC Ohio the past three seasons — and came just short of getting his second.
The games the two have played recently have been back-and-forth affairs and look to be that way for the foreseeable future.
“I think you’re going to see a lot of that between Athens and Vinton the next five to 10 years,” Mickey said. “We’ve kind of set standards on our expectations of play, and unfortunately for our end of it, they’ve got the better of us, we want to get that turned around.”
Building a program to be a contender year after year isn’t the easiest thing, but it looks like Mickey has the Bulldogs trending in that direction.
Finishing second in the conference in the first two seasons under a new head coach isn’t anything to be ashamed of. Especially this year, when the overall record was 3-9 at the midway point.
The key has been winning the conference games that should be won. Even with the 3-9 start, those three wins came in conference play. Athens was even 3-1 in the TVC Ohio at one point, before dropping a close game to Wellston and losing to Vinton County.
Then, the streak came.
The defense and offense began to click, as the confidence that the team had in itself, even though it was 3-9, showed.
Like after the Jan. 30 win over Jackson, win No. 4 of the streak, when Mickey emerged from the locker room, fist pumping.
“Who in this area didn’t think Athens was done but the guys in the locker room and maybe some of the fans? We never thought we were done. We kept going to the gym and going to work," Mickey said.
That kind of confidence and drive is good for the program, and why the Bulldogs will be in contention for years to come.
Correction: A previous version of the photo caption misidentified the player in the photo. The caption had been updated to reflect the most accurate information.