Things had to be different this time.
The team had taken enough punishment against this particular opponent. Surely, the basketball gods would shine down on the players here on the biggest stage.
Thoughts like those ran through my head as I drove down to Milledgeville last Wednesday. They pertained to LOA’s girls basketball game against GMC Prep, which was a Sweet 16 playoff matchup. The Lady Titans had previously met up with GMC, a fellow member of Region 7-A, eight times over the past four seasons in region play. The Lady Titans lost all of those games.
As last week’s playoff game approached, I looked back on those eight losses. Most of them were close, or had been close during the game before GMC opened it up late. This year’s games were painfully close – GMC only beat LOA by a combined margin of 12 points.
It’s odd that two region rivals met up in the second round of the playoffs. That’s a quirk of the soon-to-be-abolished Class A Power Rating system, which simply ranks teams 1-24 regardless of regions. As I wrote in my LOA basketball story last week, it just seemed as if fate had brought these teams back together.
And I truly believed it would be for LOA to finally get a win in this rivalry. It would have been poetic – GMC has dominated the rivalry, yet LOA would get a victory when it mattered most.
Instead, another heartbreaking chapter in the LOA-GMC story was written.
I talked with several parents before and after last week’s game. As one of them and I discussed, there were two ways for that game to end from LOA’s perspective: either really good or really bad. There could be no middle ground. Not against GMC.
In my hopes that the Lady Titans would get a well-earned win over their biggest rival, I had planned to call it the program’s signature victory. Because that’s what it would have been.
But a win or loss in that one game would not have defined this program. LOA girls basketball is defined by the personalities and on-court demeanor of its coaches and members.
I don’t mean for this to be a rah-rah, everything-is-perfect-at-LOA kind of column. I broach this subject because of an email that was sent last week to LOA head coach Kevin Furtado from another team in the region. That coach commended Furtado and his players for the classy nature with which they compete. I have to agree.
There have been chippy moments over the years. That’s always gonna be the case in a high-contact sport like basketball. By and large, though, this program has always carried itself with class and dignity. That’s true of most sports teams in Lake Country.
There has been little roster turnover with the Lady Titans, so I’ve gotten to know most of these players fairly well the last few years. They have fought and worked hard for everything they’ve achieved. They went from a three-win program in their first year to a 21-win team this season. They enjoyed playoff experience the last two years, including their first playoff win a couple of weeks ago.
That type of success does not happen easily. The effort of this team is undeniable. The players’ dedication made last week’s loss even tougher.
I won’t name the players because I don’t want to potentially embarrass them, but I noticed two of LOA’s girls, one of them a senior, come out of the locker room last week with tears streaming down their faces. They’re two of the toughest and strongest-willed players I’ve ever seen, yet they were overcome with emotion.
That’s how much that game meant. GMC is the proverbial thorn in LOA’s side. Give the Lady Dogs credit – they’re a well-coached, well-developed bunch. They are what LOA will be one day soon.
My heart went out to those two girls, their teammates and their coaches. This game meant a lot for many reasons. Fate brought them back together in the postseason, but it was a cruel twist of fate for LOA to fall to this team yet again.
Fortunately for the Lady Titans, they won’t have to worry about GMC in region play anymore when next year’s region alignments kick in. I guess that also means they will have to wait a long time before getting a shot at revenge.
LOA’s seniors deserve a lot of credit for helping lay the foundation for this program. They’ve all been there since day one of varsity competition. For the first time, LOA’s roster figures to look considerably different next season.
I’ve greatly enjoyed covering basketball in Lake Country this year. A significant portion of that had to do with watching the Lady Titans.
Their strides, tenacity and ferocity were always fun to see.
I’m sad for them that their season is over, because this was one fun ride.