Spring-Ford’s Sammy Stipa drives into the lane as Cumberland Valley’s Katie Jekot defends. (John Strickler/The Mercury)
Spring-Ford's Sammy Stipa drives into the lane as Cumberland Valley's Katie Jekot defends. (John Strickler/The Mercury)

HERSHEY — The ending was wrong.

Every game has a winner, a loser. When the stakes are as high as a PIAA championship, inevitably the stakes leave one team crying tears, the other tears of happiness.

But Sammy Stipa leaving the final game of her scholastic basketball career with an injury?

The ending was wrong.

The sensational Spring-Ford senior departed while battling as she always did, scrambling to the floor for a loose ball.

Her braced, already-injured left knee torqued as Stipa's face grimaced in a way you rarely see from a player known for playing through pain. With 1:50 left in the PIAA Class AAAA girls basketball championship game, Stipa's career was over.

Spring-Ford’s Kaity Dougherty, left, Shelby Mueller, center, and Sammy Stipa, right, pose with the PIAA Class AAAA runner-up trophy after falling to
Spring-Ford's Kaity Dougherty, left, Shelby Mueller, center, and Sammy Stipa, right, pose with the PIAA Class AAAA runner-up trophy after falling to Cumberland Valley 49-30 in the state final. (John Strickler/ The Mercury)

It was a poignant moment but one that mattered little to the result, Cumberland Valley convincingly winning the finals rematch over Spring-Ford, 49-30, Friday night at Giant Center.

On the other hand, maybe it stood to reason that a player who delivered Spring-Ford to never-before-reached heights — a PIAA state title in 2013, back-to-back trips to the final and three straight visits to the PIAA semifinals, as well as back-to-back District 1-AAAA championships — wouldn't go down without her body giving out.

A generational athlete on the court, along the way Stipa became Spring-Ford's all-time leading scorer and finished her career with 1,366 points. She scored a team-high 11 points against Cumberland Valley, but much like the entire Rams lineup it wasn't her night, as she shot 3-for-11 from the floor.

In the aftermath of defeat to a Cumberland Valley team that Spring-Ford, and specifically its star guard, had the number of — 60-45 in last year's PIAA final, 52-37 in the regular season — Stipa already found some perspective.

"You can't put it down to one game, one loss,' Stipa said. "It was a great experience; we weren't even on the radar (before her high school career) as coach (Mickey) McDaniel said. Just to get this far is an amazing experience.'

Spring-Ford’s Sammy Stipa drives to the basket en route to two of her team-high 11 points in the Rams’ 49-30 loss to Cumberland Valley in the
Spring-Ford's Sammy Stipa drives to the basket en route to two of her team-high 11 points in the Rams' 49-30 loss to Cumberland Valley in the PIAA-AAAA championshi. (John Strickler/ The Mercury)

Getting this far has become an annual occasion for the Spring-Ford girls basketball program. The degree of difficulty in getting to this year's state final was significantly higher compared to the year before when the Rams were runaway PAC-10 and District 1-AAAA champions.

"It's definitely hard the second time. People are coming for you,' Stipa said.

Matters were only enhanced by losing five key seniors, leaving the core of Stipa, fellow senior captains Shelby Mueller and Kaity Dougherty and junior forward Maggie Locke.

"Girls who weren't as experienced had to step up; we had to teach them how to be calm, composed in big situations and they definitely did a great job stepping up,' Stipa said.

The injuries — a year-long torn meniscus that will require surgery along with shoulder and foot troubles — were always there, yet Stipa always soldiered on, looking fresh on the way to 14 points in Tuesday's semifinal win over North Allegheny.

Most would say that Stipa's willingness to play through injury did the Rams a favor. Yet Stipa only viewed it as if she was hurting the team.

"I feel bad because my team had to go through it, me not being 100 percent. It affected the team a bit but they stepped up and helped me get through it,' Stipa said.

Her teammates didn't see it that way.

"Stipa's just amazing,' said Dougherty. "All around, every sport she plays, she's an amazing athlete. She's always there for everyone, an all-around great player and great person.'

Shutting it down seems to have never been a thought for Stipa.

"You never want to lose. Any person who really wants to win will do anything for the team,' she said, uncharacteristically firmly.

That level of competitor is a major reason why in each of the past three seasons Stipa has competed — basketball in 2012-13, soccer last fall and this basketball season — her year has ended in Hershey playing for the championship.

The first ended in celebration. Soccer ended in overtime defeat to Neshaminy (after topping Cumberland Valley in the first round of states) in November. Friday night also ended in disappointment, but Stipa already realizes her unprecedented accomplishment.

"Me and KJ (Dougherty) got to three state championships,' Stipa said. "We didn't necessarily win all of them but that doesn't mean it wasn't a great experience. I couldn't be prouder.'

Maybe the ending wasn't entirely wrong. Just a little unjust.

Austin Hertzog is the Sports Editor of The Mercury. Follow him on Twitter @AustinHertzog.