It is one thing to get to your first high school state basketball championship game. It is quite another to win your first title.
In their first title-game appearance, the Valley Christian girls learned that tough lesson Saturday at America West Arena.
Matched against two-time defending 2A state champion Thatcher, the Trojans let a third-quarter lead slip away and fell, 38-35.
"I'm disappointed," said Valley Christian senior guard Alex Robertson as she wiped away tears. "The girls really worked hard. We deserved to be here, even though we didn't win."
It was a great game as far as closeness. While Thatcher (30-3) had a distinct height advantage, the Trojans stayed on the Eagles throughout the game. In fact, late in a third quarter that featured five lead changes, Valley Christian went up, 27-23, on a 3-pointer by Jill Ekstrand. The quarter ended 27-27.
A basket by Karly Crawford early in the fourth quarter put the Trojans up, 29-27. It would be their last lead.
Three free throws by Britini Echols followed by a basket by Jasmine Smith gave Thatcher a 38-32 lead with 23 seconds left. Yet, the Trojans weren't quite finished.
Robertson hit a 3-pointer with 2 seconds left, stole the ensuing inbounds and just missed a desperation game-tying 3-pointer.
"I knew it wasn't going to go in," Robertson said. "It was all I could do."
Ekstrand thought Robertson's final shot would go.
"I never lost hope," Ekstrand said. "I always thought we could come back. But I guess it just wasn't meant to be.
"That has been our goal, to step up and beat them. We all truly thought we could. Then some of our shots that we normally hit didn't fall."
The Trojans were so interested in defeating Thatcher because they have a recent history with the Eagles.
"Thatcher, this is the fourth straight year to knock us out of the tournament, so I'll take a close game over getting blown out," Timmer said. "We had a shot at the end to win it."
Now that the Trojans are veterans of playing in the title game, Timmer said they are ready to make the next step.
"We only graduate two starters," Timmer said. "We're going to try to make a run again next year. I just hope this makes them real hungry."
Ekstrand, a junior, said her appetite is plenty whetted.
"Hopefully,” she said, “we'll win it all next year.”