It was almost like a movie.
Standing courtside during Saturday night’s Region 8-AAA boys basketball championship game, it felt surreal, as if something great was about to happen.
To the left of me, were the West Hall faithful, who watched their Spartans struggle early only to chip away at the deficit and eventually take the lead when a scram for a loose ball somehow ended up in the hands of senior Shunquez Stephens, who was fouled on a layup with less than a minute to play.
On the opposite stands sat the Franklin County fans, who traveled all the way from Carnesville in hopes that their boys team would do something the girls did a little less than two hours earlier: win the Region 8-AAA championship.
At this point in the game, the Lions fans were a little less excited and a lot more anxious than those fans sitting on the other side of the gym. They had just watched their team squander an early lead and come up empty on several attempts to put the game away late. They now trailed by two points with less than 40 seconds left, and to make matters worse, they just watched one of their stars step on the sideline to give the ball back to West Hall.
Then things started going their way.
A bogus traveling call at midcourt during the Spartans next possession gave Franklin County the ball back and a chance to either tie or win the game.
As the teams strategically traded timeouts, I glanced over at Gainesville sophomore Tray Harrison, who was standing near the court, and asked if Franklin County senior Keshaun Mayfield was going to get the ball.
“Of course,” he said.
And why wouldn’t he. Mayfield was the catalyst of the Lions offense all night, and he’s arguably their most talented player. He’s the guy you want to take the last shot.
It’s too bad he didn’t get to take it. He didn’t need to.
With the Spartans trying to foul, the ball somehow ended up in the hands of senior Austin Farrow, who rose up from a few steps behind the 3-point line and launched a shot.
Cue the cameras.
Like everything in the gym had suddenly stopped, the ball floated out of Farrow’s hands, slowly rotated through the air, and finally, after what felt like five minutes, twinkled the twine and put a dagger through the hearts of everyone hoping for a West Hall win.
I couldn’t tell you what it feels like to lose a game in that fashion, but I can tell you that it’s not going to be as easy loss to swallow. West Hall was less than two seconds away from winning its first region title in boys basketball, but instead of a celebration, the players now have to head to the state tournament having lost their third straight region championship game.
But you know what? It doesn’t matter.
Sure, the seniors are disappointed they couldn’t complete the goal they initially set, but it’s time to think big picture. It’s time to file that loss with the other two crushing defeats this year, which both came against Gainesville and both resulted in a lengthy winning streak by West Hall.
And the Spartans are fully capable of rebounding from this loss like they did the previous two because their seniors are too talented and too motivated to let a loss ruin their final month of playing high school basketball.
Losing a region championship game at the last second is tough, but winning a state championship will make everyone surrounding the program erase Saturday’s game from their mental DVR.
Jonathan Zopf is a sports writer for The Times. Follow him at twitter.com/gtimesjzopf.