Thursday night was the worst kind of heartbreak for the Delone Catholic Squirettes.
It was the kind where hope was taken away, then restored with a brief glimpse, only to be taken away again.
After an exhausting first 27 minutes of basketball that included Delone furiously erasing a double-digit deficit for the second time in a week, the Squirettes were five minutes away from cutting down the nets at the league championship for the first time since 2001.
But then the heartbreak came.
Maybe it was exhaustion. Maybe it was West York's defense. Maybe it was a lack of balanced scoring, or maybe it was a combination of all three, but Delone was outscored 18-4 down the stretch after briefly taking a 31-29 lead in the fourth quarter, and fell, 47-35, in its first league championship appearance in ten years.
"We weathered the storm, and we were right in there, but we didn't take advantage of it," Delone Catholic head coach Gerry Eckenrode said. "Then they made some big baskets."
Nothing was going right early on for the co-Division III champs from McSherrystown as they failed to score for the first four-plus minutes and fell behind to the heavily favored and undefeated West York Bulldogs.
With Delone trailing by 14 points midway through the second quarter, it seemed that West York would cruise to another easy victory. But the Squirettes spent the next two quarters clawing and scratching their way back into it.
First, senior Maddie Comly, who finished with 17 points, went on a personal 8-0 run late in the second quarter to cut the lead to eight.
Then, Delone's defense clamped down on their Division II opponents and the Bulldogs' jump shots, which had been so consistent in the first half, stopped falling. The Squirettes held West York to four third-quarter points and eventually tied it at 27.
"He (Eckenrode) just told us that we're here so we might as well go out and win it," Comly said of Eckenrode's message at halftime. "It was the first time we had been here in a while. We were only down eight, so if we won the third quarter, we would have a chance."
After an exhausting two-quarter long comeback, they broke through with 6:29 to go in the fourth when Comly sank two free throws to give Delone its first lead of the night, 31-29.
"You could tell we were tired, and we're not used to playing on a long floor like that," Comly said. "I thought we would be able to push through it when we went up by two, but we fell apart after that."
Delone did expend a certain amount of energy to climb back into the game, but a lack of scoring outside of Comly or Ally Shipley was more of an issue, Eckenrode said.
"We need to get more people involved in the offense, there's no doubt about it," Eckenrode said. "And that didn't happen tonight."
After an Audrey Eser basket midway through the first quarter, no other Squirette besides Comly or Shipley scored the rest of the game. Comly and Shipley combined to shoot 14-for-36. The rest of the team went 1-for-11.
"We can't win if we have three people scoring," Comly said. "We need to do a better job of moving the ball around and encourage the other girls to attack the basket."
Shipley's and Comly's performances were not a surprise to West York head coach Darrell Wildasin, who also coaches Delone's duo in AAU basketball.
"They don't have a lot of scoring options, but we knew what those two would do," Wildasin said. "We knew they would be a handful."
At the end of the night it was Wildasin's West York team celebrating and cutting down the nets as a frustrated Delone team looked on.
"I thought when we went up, we would just break them down because they're not used to being down," Comly said. "But they pulled it out."