Lakeview Academy girls basketball coach John Carrick was quick to recognize the great strides his program made this season, even though it ended with a 53-44 loss to Washington-Wilkes in the preliminary round of the Class A state playoffs Tuesday in Gainesville.
"I'm very proud of this team," Carrick said. "To go from 3-21 a year ago, add only one player and win 18 games this year was awesome.
"I'm only disappointed we couldn't go further."
Taylor Handte led the Lady Lions (18-11) with 16 points, including four 3-pointers as they got to within one point on three separate occasions during a third quarter run.
However, Washington-Wilkes responded by scoring four baskets off turnovers early in the fourth quarter to again build a double-digit lead and ensure victory.
"If we can improve just a small amount during the offseason, I think we'll be in good position for next season," Carrick added.
Trailing 21-11 late in the second quarter, Handte knocked down a pair of 3-pointers just before halftime to cut the Lady Tigers' lead down to 25-18.
Out of halftime, Handte immediately hit another 3-pointer, followed by a basket by Lakeview's Kaylee McClendon to shave Washington-Wilkes' lead to 25-22.
Mona Abraham (11 points) hit a pair of free throws for Lakeview with 6:40 left to play in the third quarter to get to within one point. Even though Lakeview would get close three separate times in the third quarter, it never took the lead.
The loss marked only the third time all season the Lady Lions lost a game by less than 10.
"We won a lot of close games this season," Carrick said. "This year, I think the team got that out of their head that they expect to lose.
"They've worked really hard and I've enjoyed coaching them this season."
After the Lady Tigers' leading scorer Tiare Tatum (14 points) hit a basket off a rebound of a missed free throw to go up 29-26, Handte hit a long jump shot just inside the 3-point line to draw to within 29-28.
Despite the rally, Washington-Wilkes managed to put it away in the fourth quarter with an 8-2 scoring run in the opening two minutes of the final quarter.
Talexus Cullars, Lauren Chafin, Abby Smith and Tatum all scored for the Lady Tigers off a steal early in the final period to help put the game away.
Abraham got Lakeview Academy as close as six points with a jump shot as part of her nine points in the final period and helped close to within six points after Washington-Wilkes' run.
Washington-Wilkes opened what appeared to be a decisive lead in the first half with most of its baskets coming in the paint.
Tatum scored twice in the lane and Dominique Jenkins added a basket on a coast-to-coast lay-up as the Lady Tigers jumped to a 12-2 lead midway through the first.
Early in the game, Lakeview Academy lost point guard Kelsey Gilbert after she went down with an injury.
Carrick said that was huge since she's the best ball handler on the team. Also, the Lady Lions' inability to make open lay-ups were a huge factor in the outcome, according to Carrick.