Glenelg's players arrived in Cumberland five hours before the Gladiators' 49-46 Maryland 2A West Region championship game loss to Fort Hill on Friday night, checking into a Holiday Inn after a three-hour bus ride from western Howard County.
Some players passed the time by playing basketball video games. Others relaxed while watching "Saving Silverman" or played pool in the hotel rec room.
At times, senior guard Devin Keeny's mind drifted to the night's game, but what he imagined was far from what transpired.
"I pictured it being a close game, because of the crowd, and because we were away," said Keeny, who scored 12 points, "but I thought it was going to be a victory."
Like road-weary tourists, Glenelg never got comfortable in the Sentinels' packed and sweaty gymnasium.
Glenelg squirmed through the first half with an 18-16 lead, rolled over at the start of the second half, and despite three opportunities to tie the game in the last 17 seconds, including a desperation three-point attempt by senior J.J. Marchany, it was the Sentinels who cut down the nets after the buzzer sounded.
For the final Howard County boys' basketball team remaining in the postseason -- county champion Mount Hebron and River Hill and Atholton had lost earlier in the week -- it was checkout time.
"We did everything we could, but nothing was falling for us," said senior forward Kevin Ganascioli, who scored 13 points. "It was disappointing to know we came this far. We were 2.9 seconds away from [the state semifinals at] the Comcast Center. It's upsetting."
Glenelg (14-11) apparently left its hot shooting in Howard County. A dramatic 19-point comeback win over Wilde Lake on Jan. 17 had jump-started the Gladiators. The team won 10 of its last 13 games before Friday, including playoff wins over top-seeded North Hagerstown and Atholton last week.
During the first part of the season, when the Gladiators struggled with their man-to-man defense and lost seven of their first 11 games, Glenelg did not look like a championship team.
They didn't forget their cellar-dwelling start during their playoff run, either, watching battle scenes from war-themed movies "Braveheart" and "Gladiator" before each win.
"All week it was just a battle of sorts," Glenelg Coach Jeremy Snyder said before his team's loss to Fort Hill. "We said to them, 'A trip to Comcast is what you want, and you've got to go get it.' "
As it turned out, the Gladiators had to go too far.
"This is a nasty place to play," Snyder said of the Fort Hill trip and environment. "Give it to them. It's a great gym, a great atmosphere, and it's a long trip. That's no excuse. That's just high school basketball in the playoffs."
Added Marchany: "That trip was a killer, coming out here, three hours, it just killed us. We hung out at a hotel for a little while, but it wasn't like we were playing back in Howard County. We weren't playing like this" in Howard County.
Despite the struggles during the game, the Gladiators still had a shot at tying the score with 2.9 seconds left and tried a play they had worked on since November.
Tim Phelps, the Gladiators' quarterback during the fall, was to rifle a pass three-quarters the length of the court to Ganascioli, often on the receiving end of Phelps's passes during football season. Ganascioli was to pass the ball to Marchany for a three-pointer.
It almost worked. Marchany's rushed three-pointer rattled off the rim, and the Gladiators lost their second region final game in three years by three points or fewer. Glenelg lost to Oakland Mills, 52-50, in the Maryland 1A South Region final two years ago and hasn't earned a trip to the state semifinals since 1973.
"At first, I thought: 'This is why we played bad. The last shot is going to go in.' Then I saw it hit the rim," Marchany said. "It would've been the sweetest shot in the world."