STERLING — Michael Ward crouched against the beige wall just outside the locker room, and stared at an imaginary spot on the adjacent side for quite some time.
The Lyons girls basketball coach was searching for the perfect words to ease the sting of a 45-41 loss to Jefferson Academy on Friday in a Class 2A regional game in Sterling.
But how do you find comforting words for 12 girls who played their hearts out, and were hurting after a season-ending loss? How do make their tears go away?
That’s why Ward sat outside the locker room. He put his hands on his head, took off his glasses, rubbed his eyes, trying to buy time for those consoling words to arrive. Finally, Ward got up and went in to talk to the Lions. He was just going to speak from the heart.
When he came back out, Ward’s eyes were as red as theirs.
“I never thought I could be so affected by a team,” Ward said. “I wanted this so bad for those kids. That’s what hurts the most. I couldn’t think of anything to say to ease their pain. I just thanked them for everything.”
Only time will make the Lions realize just how good of a season it was. They came out of virtually nowhere and were one game away from a state berth. Heck, they were 7 minutes, 1 second away from a state. They were up 38-29 on the Jaguars, a team Lyons had beaten earlier in the season.
But then the lead slowly evaporated. The next thing Lyons knew, the team was trailing, 40-38, with 3:40 left.
The Lions didn’t get flustered. Junior Amanda Scanlon was fouled on successive possessions and hit three of four free throws. Just like the Lions had the lead back, 41-40, with 1:57 left.
Then Jefferson Academy freshman Hannah Jones delivered the deal sealer. She hit a layup, was fouled and then banked in the free throw to give the Jaguars a 44-41 lead with 46.2 seconds left.
Not that Lyons went away quietly. On the contrary, the Lions went down giving Jefferson Academy their best shot. They even drew up the perfect play with time winding down. Senior Megan Bunker was alone at the top of the key with 22.7 seconds left. Her shot looked absolutely perfect, only to ricochet off the front iron. The Jaguars would add a late free throw to ice the win.
After the game, Bunker, who had a team-high 14 points, wanted that shot back. One more chance at the shot, and she’d surely make it.
“I rushed it,” she said. “It felt off; I wasn’t in sync. I’d love to have that shot again.”
The game never felt in question. The Lions seemed to have everything well in hand. They controlled the boards — outrebounding the Jaguars 41-27 — the tempo and everything else. That’s why the loss was so shocking. Almost every stat known to basketball favored Lyons. Even more puzzling, the Jaguars were 4 of 20 from the free throw line — including 4 of 11 in the final quarter — while Lyons was 8 of 13.
Obviously, stats can lie.
“I never felt we were in jeopardy,” said Ward, whose team did turn the ball over 27 times. “I never felt like we’d lost control of the game.
“But I’m proud of this team. I’m real proud of them.”
And the experience the underclassmen received will only make them better next year. Junior Ashley Hirschfeld and sophomore Lauren Chapman came up with big performances when it mattered most. Hirschfeld had 10 points while Chapman added five and pulled down 13 rebounds. Not that either wanted to talk about individual accolades after the contest.
“I wish we could’ve won,” Chapman said through tear-filled eyes. “This really hurts.”
Season-ending losses always do. And trying to find the words to make them feel better is next to impossible.
Just ask Ward.
¨Jefferson Academy 45, Lyons 41
At Northeastern Junior College
England 0 0-0 0; R. Bunker 0 0-0 0; Schooler 1 0-0 2; Elsberry 0 0-0 0; Hirschfeld 4 0-0 10; Chorey 0 0-0 0; M. Bunker 5 3-4 14; Taylor 0 0-0 0; Chapman 2 1-3 5; Siddall 0 1-2 1; Scanlon 2 3-4 7; Meckle 1 0-0 2. Totals 15 8-13 41.
JEFFERSON ACADEMY (18-5)
Tekrony 4 1-3 10; Hose 3 0-0 6; Tennant 2 1-7 5; Kipp 0 0-2 0; Jones 7 1-6 15; McKelvin 3 1-2 9. Totals 19 4-20 45.
3-Point goals — Lyons 3 (Hirschfeld 2, Bunker), Jefferson 3 (McKelvin 2, Tekrony). Fouled Out — Hirschfeld. Total Fouls — Lyons 20, Jefferson 11. Technical Fouls — None. Rebounds — Lyons 41 (Chapman 13, Scanlon 7, Siddall 6), Jeffesron 27 (Jones 9). Assists — Lyons 10 (Chapman 4), Jefferson 9 (Tennant 4). Steals — Lyons 9 (Chapman 3); Jefferson 9 (Tennant 5). Turnovers — Lyons 27, Jefferson 18.