Rome junior Dean Merriweather concentrates on a free throw in a game earlier this season (File/RN-T)

Brittany Hannah

Although the Rome boys closed the regular season with a gust of momentum — winning five of their last nine region games — the Wolves couldn’t capitalize on that surge when the postseason started on Saturday.

Hosting Villa Rica in the first round of the Region 5-AAAAA tournament, the Wolves suffered a season-ending 54-42 loss to the Wildcats.

“We got better as the season went on, but we were behind the eight-ball the whole year,” said Rome coach Keeth Jones.

“We had a lot of new players and young kids (this season), and we jumped right into playing games, and we didn’t play just games — we played good teams. There are a lot of good teams in our region.”

Rome’s Matt Scott finished with a team-high 14 points in the loss, and Ben Burge added eight for the Wolves (8-18).

Rome entered the game as the fourth seed in subregion A and Villa Rica was the fifth seed from subregion B.

The Wildcats built a slow-but-steady lead in the first half that was boosted by a 7-0 scoring run in the first quarter.

Helping Villa Rica to to basket was a stream of Rome turnovers.

“Tonight it was just a matter of the thing that we haven’t done well all year, and that’s taking care of the ball,” said Jones.

“That’s a skill, and it’s something that you learn on the playground or you learn by playing a whole lot of basketball.

“We just never had that, and you’re not going to get a whole lot better at that during the season, so that’s what kind of hurt us in this situation.”

The Wolves hung with Villa Rica during the second half, being outscored just 22-19, but couldn’t find enough rhythm to stage a late comeback.

With a stiff region like 5-AAAAA, Jones said being prepared for the other team is a challenge.

“Villa Rica is a good team, and we couldn’t simulate their speed and what they do in practice,” he said. “So when they did it out here, I knew what was going to happen, but it was kind of a surprise for some of the guys.”

The game’s leading scorer was Villa Rica’s Josh Lay who had 18 points. The Wolves opened region play at 0-7, but then hit the late-season surge that led them to go 5-3 for the rest of regular season region play.

Despite the loss, Jones sees this season as one that his team can build on.

“I’m proud of our effort. We got better, and I think now some of the younger guys know what it takes to win,” he said.

“We played hard, we were just a little down in the things that would have made us successful this year.”