As the West Springfield girls’ basketball team mobbed each other after their 44-38 victory at the Patriot District championship on Feb. 22, the South County Stallions tried to fight back their disappointment and revel in how far they'd come.
"Two years ago, we were at the bottom of the barrel and now we were playing for a district championship," said head coach Chrissy Kelly. "It's amazing because this team has done so much."
As the No. 2 seed in the Patriot District tournament at T.C. Williams, the Stallions defeated West Potomac and Annandale to earn a trip to the finals.
"We've come so far," Simone Antwi said. "We've worked really hard for this year. It felt good to be in the finals."
South County’s match with West Springfield would prove to be the greatest test of the season, against one of the Northern Region's best teams.
Where most teams struggled to keep West Springfield's offensive attack in check, the Stallions used their size and grit to keep the first half of the game close. They led 19-16 after the first half.
The lead didn't last as West Springfield's April Robinson scored 13 points and kept pressure on the Stallions to play keep-up with the Spartans' offense.
West Springfield's increased offensive and defensive pressure proved to be a turning point.
"We missed some critical defensive rebounds and critical free throws," Kelly said. "It's a game of runs and both teams had runs, but they answered ours well."
With a minute left, the Spartans held a slim 38-36 lead, but South County's attempt to prolong the game by fouling didn't give the Stallions enough time to complete the upset.
Despite the losing effort, Kelly said her team gave her their best.
"The kids fought harder than I'd ever seen them fight," she said. "But it was the little things throughout the game that made a difference."
The Stallions still have a chance for redemption, and a title victory, in the Northern Region tournament, which begins Feb. 24.
"Our season is far from over," Kelly said.