RAHWAY, NJ - At numerous points throughout their matchup with top-seeded Rahway, Summit could have been excused for, at minimum, subconsciously conceding the result, or at least displaying more than a hint of body language and other, non-verbal cues that the outcome seemed inevitable.
Down by more than 20 in the third quarter after a prolonged run by the Indians and facing a boisterous home crowd, the eighth-seeded Maroon & White -- as they have all year -- defied the doubters and the odds. Led by their senior captains who played like, well, captains, they dug deep, competed as if there were no scoreboard or clock, and did the name on the front of their uniform more than proud.
The Hilltoppers got the game as close as eight points, but they ran out of time and fell to Rahway 71-60 and, in the process, simultaneously exited the NJSIAA North 2, Group 3 state basketball tournament and saw their season come to a close.
Senior captain Chip Roriston scored a career-high 26 points, while classmates and fellow captains Will Schaffer and Jack Washburn had 16 and 7 points, respectively, to pace Summit. The three senior captains accounted for 80% of the team's points in the final game of their Hilltopper basketball careers.
Summit looked a bit cautious offensively in the first quarter, but there was nothing cautious about the play of Rahway guard Keyshawn Cummings, who was making three-balls that barely made the net move as they sailed through the rim.
As was the case most of the night, the Indians athletic backcourt duo of Cummings and Zion Pendleton did most of the damage, but the Hilltoppers hung in there and trailed by just six points, at 15-9, after the opening eight minutes.
The second quarter saw both squads stage mini-runs, with Summit's best stretch seeing them close the gap to three points at 26-23 after a nifty Roriston cross-over, dribble drive to the rack.
A minor turning point came, however, when Rahway came out of a timeout and tossed a 6-0 spurt on Summit to close the half. After all of their hard work in the quarter, the Hilltoppers were down nine at the break but, given the timing of the Indians' jaunt, it somehow felt like the deficit was larger.
If Rahway's late first-half uptick was downer for the visitors, their 15-3 streak to start the third felt like the '"Death Star'" had parked itself over Summit's bench. Pendleton was penetrating, dishing, and getting to the free throw line. Cummings kept raining treys, and -- halfway through the frame and down 47-26 -- things looked very bleak from a Hilltopper perspective.
Summit did finish the quarter strong however, 'winning' the last few minutes 9-6, but went to the fourth down 18 at 53-35.
The teams traded baskets until the six-minute mark of the final quarter, when Summit decided they would not go quietly into the night. After chipping away at the deficit, a Roriston bucket made it 57-45 at the 3:43 mark, followed by a Schaffer put back of a missed free throw 23 seconds later to trim the Indians' lead to 10 at 57-47.
Washburn's basket with 1:54 left in the game brought the delta down to nine at 61-52 and then, after Rahway scored at the other end, he found joy from behind the arc to narrow the gap to 63-55 with 1:13 to go.
Summit -- which ended their 2016-17 with a record of 11-15 -- could, however. get no closer as the clock ticked down to zeros.
Cummings, with six three's, led Rahway with 24 points and Pendleton added 21.
"We did some remarkable things this year," said Summit Head Coach Dan Healy. "It is truly amazing how far along everyone (on the roster) has come."
While his team had just four seniors and got heavy contributions from a strong sophomore contingent and several freshman, the coach said his senior captains -- Roriston, Washburn, and Schaffer -- deserve "all the credit" for enabling and activating an environment which spawned the younger players' rapid growth and maturity.
"I've never challenged our captains the way I challenged this group. They took it all and made the things we accomplished together possible."