Leavenworth The tears Free State High senior Jamie Stanclift cried after a 50-41 loss to Leavenworth in Thursday's Class 6A sub-state game signified the end of her Firebird basketball career.
But it was the type of loss that would have brought any player as emotional as Stanclift to the brink of tears, final game or not.
After leading for most of the first half, Free State went cold in the third quarter and fell behind by 10 points with under two minutes to go in the frame.
The Firebirds fought back in the fourth to recapture a one-point edge with 3:27 left, but Free State could not produce enough offense to match Leavenworth's free-throw prowess.
"The seniors got us really intense," sophomore Jenna Brantley said. "All week, we practiced for a really fast game."
Early on, the teams swapped baskets seemingly each trip up the floor. Free State -- which went 2-of-24 in the first quarter of its regular-season finale against Olathe North -- was getting easy looks inside and knocking them down. Brantley scored nine of her game-high 13 points in the opening eight minutes.
Leavenworth battled back, took a 22-21 lead at the half and kept its momentum going to start the third quarter. This time, Free State couldn't keep up.
The Pioneers scored the first nine points of the second half until Stanclift answered at the 2:37 mark.
Free State finished the third quarter by scoring four unanswered points to pull within six, and then slowly climbed the mountain in the fourth. An old-fashioned three-point play by Brantley and two free throws by sophomore Lauren Kimball gave Free State the lead late, but a 6-0 Leavenworth run that took less than a minute put an end to Free State's season.
"It's devastating, quite frankly," FSHS coach Bryan Duncan said. "But, you know, we're extremely proud of our players and of our program. We're very happy with the effort that we gave tonight."
The Firebirds, who finished the season 9-12, will return their the majority of their roster next season. For seniors Stanclift and Chloe Hall, it was a tough final game.
"Everyone was kind of sad," Brantley said. "There were a lot of tears in the locker room."