It just wasn't meant to be for the Whitwell Lady Tiger baskertball team.
Playing at home in the friendly confines of their own Van Hooser Gymnasium, the visiting Clarkrange Lady Buffaloes were simply too strong as they qualified for the TSSAA Girls State Tournament next week with a 48-40 victory over the Lady Tigers in a Class A sectional game Saturday night.
It was a near-capacity crowd who got there early to see two pretty good teams do battle on the court. They got their money's worth as the Lady Buffaloes did just a little bit better job of handling the nerves and just the simple emotion of the event.
Clarkrange bolted to a 13-2 lead in the first five minutes of the game, but Whitwell closed the quarter on a 6-0 run to trail by just 15-13 at the first break.
Alyssa Coppinger scored on a short jumper from the baseline to start the second to knot the score and the game was tied three more times in the quarter, including 21 apiece at intermission.
The Lady Buffaloes scored the first seven points in the second half to regain control and they never folded under the extremely tight defensive pressure that Whitwell applied.
The difference was 34-27 when the fourth quarter began, but the Lady Tigers kept battling and got to within two points at 36-34 when Kelsey Kilgore sank the second of two free throws with 4:39 to play.
Cheyenne Shaver gave the Lady Buffaloes a lift when she scored on a putback a minute later and added the free throw for a 39-34 Clarkrange lead.
The Lady Buffaloes were content to run the clock early in the fourth quarter with a five-point lead and they did an outstanding job of handling Whitwell's continuous defensive pressure.
The Lady Tigers were forced to foul in hopes that Clarkrange might somehow stumble at the free throw line, but they sank 10 of 11 charity tosses in the last 3:43 to maintain their lead.
Shaver, Brittany Cooper and Lindsey Crabtree all hit two in the final 30 seconds to seal the deal as Whitwell couldn't get any closer as the clock expired.
Clarkrange coach Lamar Rogers felt like this team's fast start was one key to victory, but the fact they handled the pressure of a tough environment meant just as much.
"We pressed early and got a nice lead in the first quarter, but we played a terrible second quarter. We've played in loud gyms before, so that wasn't a problem.
"And we had to his those free throws at the end. We missed some shots that we normally make, but as long as we were ahead at the end, that's all that mattered.
"Give Whitwell a lot of credit as they played really hard tonight," Rogers said, his team now 26-8 with the victory.
Whitwell coach Eric Zensen did everything he knew to change the outcome. Despite the heart-breaking loss, he was still extremely proud of his girls and the outstanding season they had.
"We were nervous at the start and allowed them to get a big lead, but we fought our way back into it. Our kids left it out on the court as they fought their hearts out from start to finish," he began.
"If we had been able to shoot a little better, it might have been a different outcome, but when you dig yourself into a hole against a good team like Clarkrange, it's hard to fight your way out.
"I wish the outcome had been different, but they gave me everything they had and I can't ask for more. It was just a matter of making shots. We had a great season, but hopefully we can come back next year," he added with a smile.
Cooper was the leader for the Lady Buffaloes with 18 points as she dominated down low. Crabtree followed with 16 points while Shaver was also in double figures with 10.
Paige Carter was the leading scorer for Whitwell with 10 points. Coppinger and Kilgore were next with nine points apiece.
Clarkrange is now 26-8 while Whitwell's season ends at 26-9.
Clarkrange 15 6 13 14 -- 48
Whitwell 14 8 6 13 -- 40
CLARKRANGE (48) -- Cooper 18, Shaver 10, Crabtree 16, Rains 4, Owens, Dailey.
WHITWELL (40) -- Gholston 4, Bennington 6, Atterton, Coppinger 9, Carter 10, Kilgore 9, Headrick 2.
3-POINT GOALS: Clarkrange 2 (Crabtree 2); Whitwell 2 (Coppinger, Carter).
(Email John Hunt at email@example.com)