CASPER — It wasn’t for the state championship. It wasn’t for third-place. But when the Pine Bluffs girls basketball team took the court last Saturday in the Class 2A fifth-place game, there was still plenty to play for.
Last season, the Lady Hornets didn’t make the state tournament. This year, they had something to prove. Even if it wasn’t a state title, this group of girls would not be denied.
“The seniors, we wanted to try and get them a win going out. And then the freshmen and sophomores, give them kind of a taste of what it was and maybe next year they’ll come back up and do it again,” Pine Bluffs coach Bob Cochran said.
Facing a very tough Shoshoni team, Pine Bluffs never backed down. Even when it trailed with just over one second left in the game, the Lady Hornets never lost hope. So, when Conner Graves’ jumper over a defender tickled the twine as the horn sounded, both players and coaches poured onto the court in celebration.
And rightfully so. This was a redemption story that wasn’t perfect but it still had a happy ending.
“It’s unreal. I think we’re all kind of in shock. This isn’t exactly the finish we wanted but it’s a heck of a way to go out,” Pine Bluffs senior Laura Gross said.
With a thrilling ending to a strong season, the seven seniors who are leaving the program took their exit with a trophy in-hand and a little pride on their side.
Now the question becomes — where the does the program go from here?
Though the senior unit did a lot of the heavy lifting, several underclassmen were counted on throughout the year and many played a big role in the final game. Andrea Baker will be the lone returning starter but Dana Mullins, Samantha Hanson, Jaden Ragsdale and Jesi Zitek all played big minutes in the season finale and throughout the regular season.
Can the new class live up to the expectations? The veterans certainly think so.
“I say that they can do it. They showed us a lot, that coming in off the bench as freshmen and sophomores, they can do it next year,” Pine Bluffs senior Tessa Werner said.
Where the program goes next is anybody’s guess. Losing so many key players will be tough but there is a difference between rebuilding and reloading. Which path the Lady Hornets go down is still undetermined.
The one thing that is certain, the 2011-12 senior class will exit with plenty to smile about. And for now, that’s all that matters.
“It feels great. We came in here wanting to end this game, get some hardware and bring it home for everybody,” Pine Bluffs senior Conner Graves said. “Being a senior, I think it was a great game to go out on.”