Some losses in sports come more painfully than others. In a lot of ways, losing a tight ballgame is much more painful than being soundly beaten; when you feel as if you or your favorite team are evenly matched with someone else but can’t take home the ultimate prize, it can be even tougher to accept defeat.
For the Mount Desert Island’s girls’ basketball team, the season ended with loss to Herman in the Class B North semifinal game. The Trojans, down by 16 points heading into the fourth quarter, fought back to make what looked like it was about to become a blowout game competitive but were ultimately unable to complete the comeback in a season-ending defeat.
But for two Hancock County teams, the results were different. Strong George Stevens Academy and Ellsworth boys’ basketball teams seemed to be so close to winning championship games, but in the end, the opposing teams just made a few more shots and got a few more stops to trip up both Eagle squads short of glory.
The two endings were grand testaments to how cruel sports can be. The players on these teams have spent countless hours of their lives conditioning and refining their basketball skills, and all it took was a few minutes of things not going their way on a single night to cut their Gold Ball dreams short.
Sports are unfair in this way. A basketball taking an unexpected bounce, a strong gust of wind preventing a baseball from clearing the fence or a penalty flag on an interception can decide who hoists a trophy and who goes home. No matter how much training and hard work goes into it, there will always be those games where who wins and who loses can come down to a matter of chance.
Ten years ago, in March 2012, at Lakeville North High School in Minnesota, this exact situation happened. The school’s boys’ basketball team entered the Class AAAA state championship game with a 30-1 record but lost 49-47 as Osseo made a buzzer-beater as time expired. A senior remembered sitting in the student section in stunned silence as the opposing team celebrated the championship that he wanted his classmates so badly to have.
He can’t remember much else from that night aside from a silent car ride with friends back to the high school, where various parents and students gathered to applaud the team for its great season. They could be forgiven, perhaps, if seeing the best season in school history end in that fashion was an experience they all wanted to forget.
What he can tell you, though, is what the people on that team have done in the 10 years since that heartbreaking night in Minneapolis. Tyler Flack went on to be an all-conference player at Division I South Dakota and has since been playing basketball professionally in Sweden and Finland; Tyler David played Division I soccer at Saint Louis University before the past six years playing professionally in Europe and throughout the United States; Grant Erickson, Brett Rasmussen and Ryan Saarela had outstanding Division III basketball careers, as did Trey Heid and Joel Oxton in football.
John Oxton, the coach of that team, used that game as a chance to build his program rather than seeing it as a missed opportunity. He coached J.P. Macura, a sophomore on that 2011-12 team, to the program’s first state title in 2014. Macura went on to lead the Xavier men to a No. 1 seed in the 2018 NCAA Tournament before signing a contract with the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets out of college. Oxton has coached Lakeville North to two more state championship appearances and continues to send players to some of the top NCAA Division I programs.
Those people have accomplished those things over the past decade in part because they refused to let one play on a March night be that team’s defining moment. Instead, it was the bonding, the team bus rides and the games in front of packed student sections that shaped them. Whether that final shot swished through the net as it did or had clanked off the rim to force overtime couldn’t have changed that.
The feeling of disappointment might still be raw for the players, coaches and fans, but 10 years from now, we have a feeling they’ll all share a similar perspective. Teammates will remember playing together on the Cross Insurance Center floor; they’ll remember the road trips across the state; they’ll remember the 3-pointers, the dunks, the exciting wins and the team dinners that built lifelong friendships.
That’s how we should remember them, too. The players on these teams have suffered over the past two years as a pandemic ripped sports, school functions and other events that were afforded to past students away from them. It would be understandable if the chaos of life since March 2020 had broken their spirits, but they pressed on.
Just reaching this point in the season is something only a few teams will ever get to accomplish. No reasonable person could attribute their defeats to a lack of effort.
“We were the most focused we’ve been all year for this game,” GSA head coach Dwayne Carter said after his team’s loss to Dexter, “but the bounces didn’t go our way, and that’s what happens.”
Indeed it is, sadly, for these two teams, but when the dust settles, it will be the special moments that led to last week that will be remembered.