The players emerged from the locker room, nearly half of the Loris fans who earlier helped pack the gym still hanging around.
The Lions immediately started picking up the chairs from their bench while the faithful who watched them soar to new heights most this winter gave them one last ovation. This was the end of the road.
Loris’ perfect season ended in the third round of the Class 3A state playoffs at home Tuesday, as Wade Hampton earned a 63-53 victory. Coach Adrain Grady’s team, the one that achieved more firsts than the school’s athletic personnel could keep up with, was done.
“We’re just as proud of Loris today as we were yesterday,” Grady said. “Do we wish we would have won? Yeah. But our boys fought, and they left it out there. I tell them all the time, if they’re going to fight, then I can live with it.”
The Red Devils’ final punch was significantly much more devastating than the 9-0 one with which they started the game. Eight fourth-quarter free throws were tacked on to a rebounding advantage that came seemingly out of nowhere.
Nine different Wade Hampton players finished with points, led by Deondre Terry’s 14 and 11 each from Sam Gray and Trenton Terry.
Loris’ counter of 18 from Travis Walters, 13 from Derrick Grissett and 11 from Jahrique Isaiah was solid considering only two other teammates scored in the game. This was a struggle, to be sure, and one where Loris couldn’t flip the second half like it had done so splendidly in a blowout second-round win over Manning.
“We were playing good defense, but they made the shots. We went down and tried to score and things didn’t happen,” Walters said. “We didn’t want it to go out like that. We didn’t have our best game and they did have their best game.
“When we started beating teams by double digits, we felt like we could go far. But we didn’t come out [Tuesday] like we wanted.”
Said Grady: “You want to trust your players. Those are the same kids who won the first 19 games.”
What will remain after the loss is everything that Loris accomplished prior to that point.
The Lions put together their first undefeated regular season in the post-segregation era and was ranked No. 3 by the South Carolina Basketball Coaches Association. Walters was named the All-Region VII-3A Player of the Year, while Isaiah was the runner up; both players earned Class 3A All-State honors.
The team reached its first third-round game in at least 25 seasons, and it was the final undefeated squad among the 425 boys and girls teams playing under the South Carolina High School League umbrella.
That will have to be good enough.
Wade Hampton will move on to Florence to face Ridgeland-Hardeeville in the Lower State finals on Saturday. By that point, it’s safe to say the Loris players will be doing their best to move on past basketball.
“We’ll go on to track season,” Grady said. “Our boys love to compete. They’ll feel bad tonight. They’ll feel bad tomorrow night. Then we’ll get back to track practice. That’s how we roll.”