The 2017-18 basketball season came to a close for the Owen Warlassies in Winston-Salem on Nov. 22 with a loss in the second round of the state playoffs, but not before the team turned in one of its best runs in recent memory.
Under first-year head coach Aaron Fernandez the Warlassies picked up their 20th win of the season at home on Nov. 20 in the first round of the playoffs. It was the most wins for the program in over a decade.
The Warlassies finished second in the Western Highlands Conference, behind Mountain Heritage and earned a first-round bye in the conference tournament.
Owen went into the postseason with 19 wins and looked to pick up its 20th victory in Madison County against Mitchell in the tournament. The Warlassies had beaten Mitchell in consecutive games leading into the Feb. 15 match-up and fell to the Mountaineers 60-52.
Five days later, the Warlassies once again had the opportunity to pick up win number 20, and this time at home against Newton-Conover. Owen responded with one of its best performances of the season, Fernandez said.
"Several people came up to to me after the game and said in terms of playing a complete game it was the best performance they saw all season as well," he said. "Chesney (Gardner) had around 27 points, but we moved the ball so well and everyone contributed."
The Warlassies were in control throughout the night against the Red Devils and picked up the win, 63-51, setting up a Feb. 22 showdown against Atkins High School in Winston-Salem.
Owen leading-scorer Chesney Gardner became ill on the bus ride and was unable to play, Fernandez said. Owen fell 57-37 to Atkins.
"We called the team together and I told them she wouldn't be able to go and it wasn't up to just one person to pick up the slack, we all had to," Fernandez said. "I thought we did a really good job for three-and-a-half quarters. They fought their hardest."
The loss was particularly tough for the Warlassies, who were playing their best basketball late in the season, according to the coach.
"I felt like we'd be able to go at least three rounds in the playoffs," Fernandez said. "We hadn't had anyone miss a game all year with an injury illness or anything. This was just one of those things and it happened at a bad time."
Fernandez said he was proud of his team's performance this season.
"We were able to accomplish some of the goals we set going into the season," he said. "We expected to finish in the top two of the conference and we wanted to win 20 games because 19 wins in a season had been the most for this group."
Six seniors from the team's roster are set to graduate this year. Fernandez had high praise for Kendal Marlowe, Ashley Valencia, Caitlyn Ledford, Mariah Brown, Dee Graves and Kristyl Keeter.
"I've been around some good groups and this is probably the most fun I've ever had around any group of players," he said. "That's not a knock on other groups, but this was already such a tight-knit group because they've played together since they were little. But they accepted me and we all fit perfectly together."
The rest of the team will take the next few weeks off and reflect on this season, Fernandez said, before hitting the gym to prepare for next season.
"Before this season started I said I wanted people who came out and watched this team to see a group that competes and has fun playing basketball nightly," he said. "I feel good that we accomplished that."