HERSHEY — The resilient Rams fell short on Friday night. Instead of a second-consecutive state title for the Spring-Ford girls basketball team, they held silver rather than raising gold. All season long the story was their resurgence — an uncanny ability to dig themselves out of holes and deficits and win when the odds were stacked against them.
However, in the state championship the Rams once again dug a hole and the Cumberland Valley Eagles filled it in.
"(Cumberland Valley played the best game I've seen them play in a while,' said Spring-Ford coach Mickey McDaniel. "There were some things we didn't do well, but there were a lot of things they did do well.'
In loss, the Rams did not hang their heads. Rather, their accomplishments were celebrated. The story this postseason was that the Rams were close but no cigar. Yet that would negate a season in which returning state champions, the Rams were overlooked, overshadowed even.
"We've accomplished so much. We should be happy with how far we got,' said Rams point guard Sammy Stipa. "We weren't even on the radar to begin with and no one thought we'd get this far.
"We should hold our heads up high and be proud.'
Stipa's relentless was the spark plug for the Rams all season long. Hampered by a knee injury since last summer — a partially torn meniscus which she has scheduled surgery next week — the Rams staff reported her health at 75 percent, an inflated number only made believable by her unstoppable nature.
But with just two minutes remaining in the game, Stipa could go no further. She took to the bench holding her knee and wincing in pain, a somber end to the senior's season.
"You can't question the effort she gives. She gives everything she has,' McDaniel said. "She's been hurt all year. Through soccer and since the summer, and for her to go off the floor at that point with an injury (was a poignant moment).'
Between Stipa and the two other seniors — Shelby Mueller and Kaity Dougherty — the Rams' elders pushed the squad to championship after championship. Even when those games didn't turn out as expected, they refocused and strived for the next goal.
"One thing about this team, we never give up,' Mueller said. "Even when we were down in some of our playoffs games, we never gave up and we always played until the last minute.'
"This team just never gives up. We're just all together, every single one of us,' Dougherty said.
The sense of togetherness they formed was more than just the bond of a team, it was a union formed by years of hard work dating back beyond just the last four years. McDaniel said since the senior team were freshman, they set a record of 109-19, "almost UCONN numbers.'
As the Rams cleared out of the locker room clutching bottles of chocolate milk, wearing their new pieces of hardware proudly, it was McDaniel himself who forced back tears and choked on words. For the seniors he'll no longer have the pleasure to coach will have left just as much as an imprint on him, if not more, than the one he left on them.
"I told them, ' Do not let one game define what you've accomplished this year,'' McDaniel said. "To the seniors, ' Do not let one game define what you've done in a career.''