Sacred Heart's season ended Sunday with a 57-54 loss to Lancaster St. Mary's in the state CHSAA Class B girls basketball final at Cardinal Spellman, but this is far from the end of the story for the young Spartans.
Sacred Heart has only two seniors and returns every scorer next season, including a core of six sophomores.
Said Samantha Cody, one of those sophomores: "We're going to have a really good team next year."
And, as the Spartans showed yesterday, they tend to come back. Sacred Heart had already rallied from deficits of 17-10 and 29-19, and when St. Mary's took a 55-45 lead with two minutes remaining in regulation, the Spartans tried one final run.
It happened quickly. Taylor Higgins made a three-pointer and Kristen Brent went to the line twice, hitting 3 of 4 free throws. Higgins made it 55-54 when she completed a three-point play with 22.4 seconds remaining.
At the other end, Raeann Stillwell made a free throw to put St. Mary's back up by two. When St. Mary's got the ball back, Victoria Fontana hit a free throw to extend the lead to three.
Sacred Heart had one final possession, but the Spartans struggled to find an open shot and Higgins' potential game-tying shot fell just short.
It was a tough end to a stellar game for Higgins. The junior finished with 24 points.
"We wouldn't want the ball in anyone else's hands," Sacred Heart coach Marc Von Essen said. "Next year she'll probably win a ton of games for us because of her experience today."
Although the last shot missed, the Spartans (8-14) said they were proud to even be in position to tie it.
"I think it would have been more frustrating to lose by more," sophomore Nina Corcoran said. "We got our shot off in the end. Sometimes they fall, sometimes they don't."
With no time to scout, each team played to its strengths.
St. Mary's (16-11) leaned on its backcourt tandem of Stillwell (24 points) and Fontana (18 points).
"When you play 25-26 games you know what you can do and what you can't do," St. Mary's coach Keith Junik said. "We thought we had an advantage in our guard play. We have an advantage in our guard play every game."
Sacred Heart relied on inside play, taking advantage of free throws and second-chance opportunities. Higgins went 10-for-12 from the line and made more free throws than St. Mary's whole team. Cody scored 16 points, mostly from the low post.
"It's a lot more fun when you play teams you don't know," Von Essen said. "You just try to do what you do well. You don't spend as much time preparing for the other team."