Sometimes, in the spotlight of a major venue, we forget they're just kids

Mohegan — It was easy to forget, mostly because of the wondrous scene. Lower bowl of a professional basketball arena: full. The din of the place hit concert levels at times. Live webcast with all the announcers and cameras. The rattle and hum of people shrieking with every play.

It was easy to forget this was a high school game.

The greatest blessing of the state's high school sports revolution — increasing interest, awesome venues and seemingly higher stakes — is also its greatest curse.

Because you know who was playing out there Saturday?

Kids.

Dress up their games with all the trumpets you'd like. And, yes, we like.

But they're still kids.

And sometimes, kids don't always follow the script that the rest of us want.

Such was the case at Mohegan Sun Arena, home to perhaps the most painful loss during this magical run of New London girls' basketball. The Whalers were all but counting the money, up 11 points on No. 1 Norwalk heading to the fourth quarter, never having trailed.

They had three seniors on the floor, three seniors who had already been here once and walked away with the hardware. They had the seasoning of a brutal schedule, playing all the state's best teams this year, just to prepare them for a moment like this.

And then they, as a unit, played like they were double parked, rushing and panicking, as if unable to find the ripcord with the ground rushing toward them.

Holly Misto, New London's coach, answered all the questions after the game, smartly and philosophically, ping-ponging her way through the reasons for the meltdown. Maybe the best reason: They're kids. It happens. Heck, even the pros sometimes do things that defy explanation in times of distress. Put a bunch of kids in a berserk pro arena with all their hopes and dreams hovering above them and who could possibly predict how they'll react?

The Whalers were left despondent, staring at two realities: 1) They lost a game they should have won; and 2) They'll never be together like this again. Graduation comes and some of them leave, taking their stories and personalities with them. Oh, what they wouldn't give now for one more practice, one more game together. Funny how despair is such a great teacher sometimes, forcing you to realize how much you truly love each other.

They cried in the locker room. Coaches, too. It was, in a way, a beautiful thing. We all should be so lucky to care about something this much and to share goals and dreams with people you love. The Whalers probably had no idea the utter blessedness around them, crying together for something they'll miss desperately.

They might remember, too, that the seniors leave the program with something so few other kids get in Connecticut now. A ring and three chances to play at Mohegan Sun. Pretty amazing, really.

Misto was asked if the pain of losing helps her appreciate the abject joy of winning a state championship here even more. Her answer:

"I appreciate how hard it is to even get here," she said.

Game, set, match for the doctor. Sometimes, winning begets entitlement. Or a lack of appreciation for all the details that lead to even the mere opportunity. Misto gave us all a great reminder that sports have no script and that we are entitled to nothing.

New London girls' basketball has become a thing here in our corner of the world. This is twice in three years they've drawn huge crowds to Mohegan Sun. Their games have become social events with cheerleaders and an effortlessly cool pep band now punctuating the atmosphere.

And so their sadness was understandable, what with the circumstances that surrounded Norwalk 55, New London 53. A hearty thank-you nonetheless to seniors X Melendez, Tai Pagan, Spencer Roman and Da'Jah Uzzle. You warmed many winter nights for us, all while representing the school and city with dignity from which some adults in town could learn.

And you leave New London High with a ring.

So there's that.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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