Senior forward Jada Finister wiped her brow and hugged her parents. Tears streamed down her cheeks.
It was over.
Then she embraced a teammate. Another teammate walked by to console her. Down the line, Finister met with each of her teammates for the last time on a basketball court. They shared laughs, tears and hugs.
The winning side had already vacated the building, leaving the Hays girls basketball team and family members wondering what went wrong.
But, yes, it was really over. Hays’ season (20-13) culminated with a first-round playoff exit once again.
The last game of Finister’s high school basketball career came at the hands of Madison (21-12), which escaped the bi-district playoff round Tuesday night with a 52-47 win in overtime. The Mavericks advanced to face Steele in the next round.
At least it was an adequate farewell for Finister, if Coach Danny Preuss has anything to say about it.
“She stepped up big for us against Pflugerville in the playoffs (last year),” Preuss said. “She steps up for big games. We needed her to. I’d venture to say that she may have had 20 rebounds – I’m not sure. But we needed every one of those.”
Finister contributed 14 points, but her presence was felt in the rebounding department. The Rebels corralled 38 rebounds in the game, in part because Madison was unable to prevent Finister from tapping the ball out to a teammate or outright controlling the rebound.
Once Hays forced overtime – after erasing two separate double-digit deficits during the game – Finister was back on the attack.
Hays led 46-42 with a shade under three minutes left, after Finister knocked down a leaning bank shot for her fourth consecutive points in overtime.
“I was feeling pretty good when we got that four-point lead in overtime,” Preuss said. “I thought we had it. We had our chances, but Madison is a pretty good team.”
Preuss said his team was emotionally and physically drained by the overtime period. That may explain why the Rebels were unable to finish, allowing Madison to climb back in the game and steal the victory.
When the odds were stacked in its favor, Madison’s Denaija Daniels attacked the soft underbelly of the Rebel defense. Finister was in the vicinity both times. And both times Daniels converted the lay-up.
That set the stage for Gabby Bosquez, Hays’ leading scorer. She had another opportunity – after missing a floater at the end of regulation that would have won the game – to redeem herself.
Her redemption was short-lived. An errant pass instead led to a turnover and a quick transition basket for Madison.
Hays never led for the rest of the overtime period.
“Unfortunately we didn’t come away with the win but I don’t think we can hang our heads, because I thought the people I had on the floor were busting their butts,” Preuss said. “They had reasons to not even suit up in the first place and they suited and they gave an effort like I’ve never seen before.”
The Rebels entered the game without its starting point guard Choon-Hee Chae, who missed Tuesday’s game due to personal reasons. Preuss rejiggered his starting rotation to include Bosquez as the point guard.
As a natural shooting guard, she was out of her element. Bosquez finished with 13 points on 16 shot attempts, though Preuss said he was proud of her effort in acclimating to the position change.
Bosquez, a junior, will return next year, ready to lead the Rebels to another winning season. The 2016-17 season ended in another 20-win season and another playoff berth.
“It’s one of those seasons where I felt we could’ve gone farther but it wasn’t in the cards tonight,” Preuss said. “Whenever you can get a 20-win season, with such a difficult season, it’s good. Sure, we are disappointed. We all are. They don’t wanna quit playing basketball. It’s just a little too much to overcome.”
Next year’s team will work in earnest to replace Finister, Chae, Jaden Williams, Camille Brown and Braejee McMillian – all seniors.
If the 2017-18 squad can replicate a fraction of their heart, that’ll be half the battle.
“I want to remember the (senior class) for this game right here – never say, never die attitude, fighting hard even though things were against them,” Preuss said. “That’s a good legacy to pass on to the underclassmen.”