LexCath will miss region for only second time in 30 years

February 24, 2016 FieldsColumn

BY MIKE FIELDS

A history of post-season success and a current top 25 ranking won’t get a basketball coach a cup of coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts, much less guarantee his team victory at tournament time.

Brandon Salsman

Brandon Salsman

Just ask Lexington Catholic Coach Brandon Salsman.

His Knights, rated No. 13 in Dave Cantrall’s Rating the State, lost to No. 18 Lafayette 55-48 in the boys’ 43rd District semifinals Tuesday night. That means Lexington Catholic will miss the 11th Region for only the second time in 30 years, a testament to its staying power among the state’s elite.

Salsman has guided the Knights to seven district titles in 11 years, and he’s been involved in nine of the program’s 12 region championships (one as a player, four as an assistant, four as head coach).

But all of that glorious history didn’t take the sting out of Tuesday’s defeat.

“It was devastating,” he said. “When you walk in that locker room and see the tears rolling down the faces of your players, it doesn’t matter what you’ve done it the past because you’re in that moment. I told the kids I didn’t have any words to make them feel better. I wished I could take the pain from them.”

That’s the cruel reality of post-season hoops. No matter a team’s tradition, talent or tenacity, there are no sure things. That’s especially true in the 43rd District, where it’s the rule rather than the exception that a ranked team (or two) won’t survive. (The 43rd this year includes No. 2 Paul Laurence Dunbar, No. 13 LexCath, No. 18 Lafayette and No. 23 Lexington Christian.)

Salsman took his disappointment home with him Tuesday night, but seeing his daughters Anne (7) and Elizabeth (4) brought him eased the hurt. “I just crawled into bed with them and everything was OK,” he said.

Instead of attending the region tournament draw and scheduling practice this weekend, Salsman can instead help his wife Kate coordinate the family’s move to their new house on Saturday.

“She tells me all the time that being a coach’s wife is the biggest roller coaster she’s ever been on,” Salsman said. “It’s the highest highs and the lowest lows.

“(Tuesday night) was the lowest low. Your team is crying and you see the pain in their faces. That’s the hardest part. After all the time and effort and sacrifice they put in, it’s all over, so you’re fighting back tears, too.”

This loss to Lafayette came exactly six years after the Generals beat Lexington Catholic in the 43rd semifinals and kept the Knights from going to the region for the first time since 1986. 

The only thing that made Tuesday night’s loss less painful was that Lafayette is now coached by Mike Mendenhall III, a former Lexington Catholic player and assistant.

“He’s like a brother to me,” Salsman said. “It’s no secret I’m pulling for him now.”

Salsman found another positive way to look at his Knights’ rare early elimination.

“Losing is what’s good about sports, too,” he said. “It teaches you that sometimes things aren’t going to happen for you.”

And that’s the toughest lesson taught most often at tournament time.