Luers lost to Twin Lakes 67-57 in the Class 3A semistate championship Saturday at Huntington North.
The loss hurt, but it wasn’t just the loss on the court.
“They’re my second family,” Berry said of his teammates. “My brothers. I would do anything for them. It just makes it that much harder, knowing it’s my last game playing with them.”
Luers had a great run this season, finishing 19-8, winning sectional and regional titles, exceeding outsiders' expectations. The Knights had five senior starters and three more on the bench, and that made the end even more pronounced.
They played well much of the game. Berry scored 19 points with eight rebounds. J.J. Foster Jr. hit 6-of-11 threes and scored 20 points. Ray Walker scored 11 points. When Berry and Walker hit back-to-back three-pointers in the third quarter to take a 40-36 lead, it felt like that state trip was almost in their grasp.
A rough fourth quarter, where Twin Lakes outscored Luers 22-11 and pulled away, ended the run.
“We knew that team was senior-led, scrappy guys and they don’t have quit in them. They just made a couple more plays than we did,” Luers coach J.J. Foster Sr. said. “I’m proud of our kids. They came out and played and left it all on the court. It was a tough loss. You saw them crying their eyes out. That lets you know how much they wanted it.”
The Knights looked back and tried to figure out how the game got away. There weren’t regrets, necessarily, but they remembered moments where a play or a shot could have turned things the other direction.
Walker thought back to a play, with Luers trailing 54-51 and 3:38 left, when he went for a steal, knocked the ball away and looked ready to pounce on a fastbreak. Imagine a dunk at that point. It could have turned momentum at the most opportune time.
Walker was called for a foul.
“I think it came down to that last steal,” Walker said. “I hit the ball out of his hand. I didn’t touch him. That kind of switched our momentum. I knew if I got that steal, we were going to score. And I knew we’d get another stop.”
Instead, Twin Lakes pushed the lead to 58-51 and survived one last Luers punch when Foster hit a three-pointer to make it 58-54 with 2:13 left.
Twin Lakes’ depth of talent – Justin Crabb scored 21, Bryce Bennington 15 with seven rebounds and four assists, Blake Bennington 11 points, Matthew Conrad 10 points and Kris Goodlow eight points with 10 rebounds – delivered the win.
“I thought for a minute we’d put together some scores and get some stops,” Foster Sr. said. “They kept making plays and making plays and we didn’t get that big stop that we needed.”
Foster Jr. didn’t feel that Twin Lakes did anything specifically to seize the win.
“Offensively, I felt fine, we really could get anything we wanted,” Foster Jr. said. “We had a couple missed layups, a couple missed shots, and that was really the difference.”
Foster fouled out late as the game finally slipped away. He pulled his jersey up over his face. Berry crouched and felt the finality of the loss wash over him.
“We just told each other, don’t look back,” Walker said. “Keep looking forward. Hope for the best for each other as we move on. We had a good season. We played our hearts out. A few plays here and there and we would have gotten it.”
Foster Jr. used the same phrase about playing their hearts out.
“Once I saw everybody crying after the game, that’s when I knew we’re a family here,” Foster Jr. said.
The pain eases, fortunately. Eventually the good memories of a great season will rise again, and Luers players will look back and smile.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org.