LOGAN — As Micah Saltzman walked off the court toward the end of the overtime period Friday, all coach Mickey Cozart could do was hug him and tell him that he loved him.
The Bulldogs needed to foul. Saltzman did. It was his fifth. Saltzman, the senior point guard, had fouled out.
It was the last time he walked off the court for Athens, joining the four other seniors: Robert Dickelman, Austin Koska, Nathan Whitehead, and the injured Dalton Cozart.
Athens’ season — like the high-school career of its five seniors — came to an end with a 69-60 loss to Vinton County in Logan’s Jim Myers Gymnasium.
It also brought an a end to the Bulldogs' nine-game winning streak. This game, however, wasn’t one for disappointment.
The Bulldogs started the season 3-9 — they finished 12-10. They took the Tri-Valley Conference Ohio champion into overtime. The game was tied with 7.8 seconds left. They had a chance to win, but they couldn't convert.
Going into the fourth quarter, Athens trailed by eight points. Two quick baskets by Justin Hynes cut the lead to four. Vinton County got two points back but called a timeout with six minutes left.
Two minutes later, a Hynes layup cut the deficit to one.
As the Athens crowd roared, flashbacks to last season’s sectional championship might have been in the back of some people’s minds — memories of when Athens won with just seconds left on the clock with a layup.
Those memories probably got pushed to the forefront when an Isaiah Butcher layup tied the game with 25.6 seconds left.
Maybe those memories burned a hole through those fans' minds when the Bulldogs regained possession with about 2 seconds left. While that last possession of regulation didn’t even end with a shot, the persistence of the Bulldogs showed.
Hynes was a key part of the Athens comeback, scoring most of his 11 points in that fourth quarter.
“Justin is an animal,” Mickey said. “There are times when you can just give him the ball.”
When it came to overtime, even though the final deficit was nine, Athens was right there. Vinton County got five quick points to start the extra period. Athens had open shots to reply, but those shots just didn't fall.
“That’s basketball, it happens,” Mickey said. “That’s life. It doesn’t always go your way.”
The game was highly anticipated — it was both the sectional championship and the third time the teams played this season — and lived up to its high billing.
“It was what I expected,” Mickey said. “I expected a battle, I expected it to be tight. The team that was going to make plays down the stretch was going to win.”