NORTH CALDWELL, NJ — A 66-40 loss to Wayne Valley culminating the 2018 campaign on Thursday did not put a damper on the effort that the West Essex boys basketball team has put into this past season.

“They gave us everything they could give us and they worked hard, they are a good group of kids,” said Knights head coach Bill Humes.

West Essex put forth a valiant effort, particularly in the third quarter, when the Knights attempted to erase a 16-point deficit. Seniors Ian McLaughlin and Heath Kalb led the Knights on a 16-5 scoring run that cut the Indian lead to only five points. Kalb collected all six of his points in the frame.

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“It’s fitting because [Kalb] and I shot together all offseason, so it was fitting that we were able to connect and show off that chemistry we’d been working on all offseason,” said McLaughlin.

McLaughlin’s final game as a Knight was a solid effort all around. The forward collected eight points on Thursday to average double-digit totals in his final three contests.

“[McLaughlin]’s always done a lot for us,” said Humes. “He’s a selfless player who doesn’t worry about points or anything. He just wants to make sure players are playing hard—he’s a good leader.”

For the senior captain, his last game taking the court for West Essex is bittersweet.

“I’m thankful for my family letting me play a sport,” said McLaughlin. “I’m thankful for my coaches putting in all their time regardless of what the outcome of the season is and the way things are going they work really hard…at the end of the day, it’s just a score and what I’ll take away from it is the memories made, the friends I’ve had and the whole experience."

While the quartet of seniors in McLaughlin, Kalb, John Maglioro and Evan Katz has taken a final bow, the program will continue on. The Knights showed they have a number of developing underclassmen in the pipeline, including Scott Barlow, David Germain and John Georgiou among others, who combined for 22 of the 40 points on the evening.

“I can’t wait to come back next year and see what improvements they’ve made and see how much better we’ve gotten as a program,” said McLaughlin.

The Knights will finish the 2018 season with a 5-18 record after losing their last six games. West Essex, due to a sub .500 record, will not qualify for the playoffs, which was an expected possibility from the start of the season. Despite their struggles,  the team is happy with its progression.

“Going into this year, we knew it might be tough, but what I told the coaches is we’re just going to try and get better everyday and I think we did that,” said McLaughlin. “I think this summer, [the team] is going to try and get better and we’re going to be one hell of a program moving forward.”