COLUMBUS -- Tears dripped from Alexus Watson's eyes, but she could still manage to look beyond the horizon.
"We're coming back next year and we're going to win it,'' said Watson, a sophomore starter for Seminole County, moments after the Lady Indians had suffered a heartbreaking, 50-45, loss to Calvary Day in the GHSA Class A Elite 8 round of the state playoffs Friday afternoon.
Calvary Day, which fell in this round last year, advances to the Final Four in Macon, but the Lady Cavaliers didn't get there without first having to fight off the Lady Indians, who left it all on the floor in a gutsy and gritty comeback that fell just short at Columbus State.
"I couldn't be prouder of them,'' Seminole coach Jesse McLeod said. "The way they came back. The way they fought their way back ... We just fell a little short.''
And they fell together -- just like they had risen together.
The Lady Indians gave a whole new meaning to the term "share" as they built their season on a brand of unselfish play that's as rare as it is special.
"We had great chemistry on this team,'' said Georgette Benton, one of two senior starters. "There was no drama on this team. We worked together and that's why we went such a long way.''
And in their final game, four starters not only put up double figures, but all had big moments in the game. Watson, a sophomore, led with 12 points, while Benton, Meshelay Mobley, the other senior starter, and Katrese Brown all finished with 11 points. Patrice Barnes also had a strong game running the offense as the point guard, and McLeod did everything but win this one.
They stormed back from a 12-point deficit in the third quarter to take the lead, 39-37, on a Watson put-back with 5:55 left in the game. But Calvary hit two quick baskets to go ahead, 41-39, then Mobley hit a runner with 4:34 left to knot the score at 41-41. It stayed that way until Kelsey Ellis hit a 3 with 3:24 left to give Calvary Day a 44-41 lead it would never give back.
The Lady Indians, who passed the ball like wizards in the second half, saw Brown hit Benton inside with a slick pass, but as Benton went to shoot she was clearly fouled with 2:11 left. There was a no call on the play, and Calvary Day scooped up the loose ball and starting winding the clock down.
"Those are the breaks of the game,'' McLeod said of the controversial call.
The Lady Cavaliers picked up a basket and a couple of free throws -- a result of desperation fouls by Seminole -- in the final minute to go ahead, 48-41, before Brown hit a drive and Mobley made a shot at the buzzer.
The Seminole kids left the court in tears after their furious comeback left them wanting one more shot.
They got down early, falling behind 6-0 after tip-off to a much more experienced Calvary Day team, which led 13-6 at the quarter. Seminole started to come back, but Ellis had a monster first half, scoring seven points in the final two minutes to give Calvary Day a 26-17 halftime lead. Ellis finished with 15 in the first half alone.
"We made a change on defense at halftime that made it easier for them to get to (Ellis) without having to chase her all over the floor,'' McLeod said.
It worked -- Ellis was held to just five points in the second half.
And while Seminole was shutting her down, Brown was coming alive in the third quarter, dropping in nine of her 11 points during a 17-5 run that erased Calvary Day's 29-17 lead. The Lady Indians caught Calvary when Watson went inside to knot things at 37-37 with 1:10 left in the third. But Kare Badger hit a 3 with five seconds left in the third to give the Lady Cavaliers a 37-34 lead heading into the final quarter.
Seminole (20-8), which stormed its way into state after finishing second in the Region 1-A tournament, to landing in the final eight teams in Georgia, kept coming back and took the lead before falling short in the end.
"We felt great in the third quarter,'' Brown said. "We felt like we were going to win it. We had to come back. It was great that we came this far. It was a great season, and it hurts to lose, but we tried our best.''
It showed as Seminole simply out-played, out-hustled and out-worked Calvary Day in the second half. But the slow start really put the kids from Donalsonville in a huge hole.
"I guess we had a little case of nerves,'' said McLeod, who has coached the program for 30-plus years. "We couldn't hit a shot at the beginning of the game, but they came back. They played great in the third quarter. We had a chance to win it. I can't say enough about them. They played their hearts out.''