AMHERST — Pat Murphy has been coaching the game of basketball longer than almost anyone in the region.
Always smiling, with a cool demeanor yet very knowledgeable about the game, when the North Middlesex girls’ basketball coach says something about his team, it carries weight.
After Wednesday’s 44-34 loss to top-seeded Longmeadow in the Western Mass. Division 2 semifinal, Murphy expressed great sadness and admiration for his senior class, which featured one of the most tight-knit groups Murphy has seen during his tenure.
Anyone in Amherst on Wednesday could see those six seniors fighting back tears just as hard as they fought on the court in their final high school game.
“There’s not a day that goes by that you didn’t want to get to the gym and be with them,” Murphy said.
“The chemistry was fantastic. They had a spaghetti supper before every single game and they did a lot of stuff together.”
The seniors not only grew up together, dating back to their middle-school travel-team days, but also displayed maturity and showed the goodness of their hearts. The seniors were very influential in the ALS benefit game, a fundraiser in honor of Joe Killelea — a longtime volunteer in Ashby, Townsend, Pepperell youth basketball and scoreboard operator for North Middlesex games.
Killelea lost his battle with ALS shortly after the Feb. 2 fundraiser held in his honor.
In addition to the charitable nature of the team, two seniors, Delaney Ledoux and Emily Flavin, earned recognition as scholar-athletes this season.
“It’s all those other factors that made me want to go to the gym,” Murphy said.
“They were just great kids.”
Brittani LeBlanc was the gem of the class and will be attending Division 2 Assumption College to continue her basketball career.
“Everybody is my best friend, and it’s definitely going to be hard leaving them,” LeBlanc said about her teammates. “Everybody contributed. I’m definitely going to miss it here. It’s a surreal feeling. I’m going to miss all my teammates, and coach Murphy was a great coach.”
The Curry Hicks Cage is an arena steeped in history, and making it to the court signified a successful season for the Patriots. It was the second time these seniors have been among the final four teams in their Western Mass. bracket.
“I came here my sophomore year, and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end my senior year than to be back here at the cage,” senior starter Olivia Cappucci said. “It’s an honor to come here, and we worked very hard to get here. I think we had a great game.”
The seniors will move on to bigger and better accomplishments in life, but they will always remember the friendships they forged on the court over the last half-decade.
“It’s definitely tough to say good-bye,” Cappucci said. “Especially when you’re as close as us, we were all so close. It’s a hard way to end the season, with a loss, but we should be proud we made it this far.”
This closes the chapter for the six seniors, including Riley Walsh and Katherine King. But the era that they played in will continue.
The future of the program is very bright, with three of the five starters returning to the team next year, and the seniors can take credit for leaving their mark and moving the program forward.
“We learned just as much from the underclassmen as we taught them,” LeBlanc said. “They are going to be a very good team next year.”