One by one, the Fort Osage High School basketball players exited the locker room inside the Independence Events Center.
They had spent several minutes with coach Josh Wilson and his staff following a heart-breaking 67-58 loss to a Lee’s Summit team led by Drew Lock’s 29-point night.
Some players were inconsolable. Others managed to wipe away the tears and talk about the Class 5 sectional loss that ended one of the most memorable seasons in school history.
“We hate to lose – I mean, we hate it!” said composed sophomore guard Skylar Thompson, who finished with 12 points. “But I don’t think anyone thought we would get this far this season after losing the ‘Big Three Seniors’ from last year’s team.
“I’m so proud of what we accomplished this season. We ran into a good team and Lee’s Summit just beat us. We have to use this loss as motivation for next season.”
Lee’s Summit ran off to an early 12-2 lead, and Fort managed to knot the score at 24-all late in the second period, but could never get over the hump and take a lead.
“I have so much respect for Coach Wilson and his kids,” Lee’s Summit head coach Blake Little said. “We knew this was going to be a tough game, and they gave us everything they have. They have two great players (Thompson and senior Brian Starr) and a bunch of kids who play their guts out. When we got that early lead, I thought, ‘They’re going to make a run at us,’ and they did.
“We managed to maintain a lead in the second half, because we played an unselfish game. Drew did his best to let everyone get involved in the first half, then we just let him take it over in the second half.”
Lock scored 20 of his 29 points in the second half, hitting 6 of 6 free throws in the fourth quarter to finish an 11-of-11 performance from the line.
“Lock is a great player, and we did everything we could to stop him,” Wilson said after the Indians wrapped up a 19-7 season. “It’s just so tough to know that we have to say goodbye to some great seniors and that we don’t have practice tomorrow.
“The guys really enjoy being around each other and I love being around them. They’re a special group who really did an amazing job this season.”
Seven times in the second half, the Indians cut the deficit to a one-possession game.
“But we could never get that basket to tie the game or the big shot to give us a lead when it was a one-point game,” Wilson said. “We had a charging, and couple of misses and a turnover – and Lee's Summit was responsible for a lot of our frustration.
“You hear so much about Lock, but they have a great team.”
Blake Spellman, whose father graduated from Fort Osage, hit three 3-pointers in the second period, including a buzzer-beater at the half, to give the Tigers a 30-26 halftime lead.
“They made a lot of big baskets and we didn’t make as many as we needed to make,” said senior guard Brian Starr, who finished with 14 points. “I didn’t even have a tear in my eye in the locker room because I felt like I let the team down tonight.
“I didn’t do the things I usually do in a game, and I’m sad and disappointed. We didn’t want this season to end. It was too special for all of us.”
Junior guard Will Penamon led the Indians with 16 points, and he left the locker room in tears.
“You can tell what this game means to this team,” Wilson said. “It’s hard right now. Sometime, we’ll appreciate all the good things we did this season, but it won’t be tonight.”
Ironically, Little is a teacher at Lee's Summit West, the Tigers’ opponent at 2:45 p.m. Saturday in the game that will punch one team’s ticket to state.
“Other than the guys on my staff at Lee's Summit, some of my best friends are on the staff at West,” said Little, who was a former junior varsity coach for the Titans. “I’m not going to get much sleep between now and Saturday afternoon.”