His Florin High School girls basketball players were despondent in defeat, reduced to tears. So Larry Price issued the best response he could.
He kissed them on their foreheads, one by one, and said, “We’re OK. We’re good.”
Competing like champions with a gallant effort after trailing 11-0 early and playing to the point of exhaustion, the plucky Panthers weren’t officially counted out Friday night at Sleep Train Arena until Meagan Warwick made two free throws with .4 seconds remaining. That allowed Modesto Christian to beat Florin 39-37 in a physical yet wildly entertaining Sac-Joaquin Section Division III championship game.
The Crusaders won their sixth title since 2006, and the Panthers lost in a title game for the fourth time, including the last two seasons. But defeat doesn’t deter this Florin bunch, not after storming to the NorCal semifinals a year ago.
Florin used six players, as half the bench resembled a triage unit with ice bags and crutches.
“That’s been the story the whole year – they don’t quit; they’re resilient,” Price said. “They band together and play as a team. Last year, people thought we were a joke after some of our early losses, but we stood up. We showed we belong now. Florin High School is alive and well.”
Dalayna Sampton, Florin’s classy senior captain and inspirational leader, kept her team in it down the stretch. Her free throw with 1:08 to go tied the score 34-34, and her three-point play on a powerful putback tied it 37-37 with 37.3 to go. She had six points and 17 rebounds.
In a wild scramble for the ball off a missed shot, Florin team-fouled Warwick to prevent her from winning it with a putback.
Rhianna Jackson had 13 points, Jikara Sellers eight and Desiree’ Dedrick seven for Florin, which upset top-seeded Vanden in a semifinal. Sampton, the Hawaii-bound 4.5 student, had mixed feelings of pride and disappointment.
“I’m definitely proud of our team, and we gave a great effort,” Sampton said. “We should’ve had this. I feel like I let everyone down. I didn’t play well offensively and I needed to. I’m hard on myself.”
What can the Panthers learn?
“We learn the feeling of losing, and it’s a feeling we don’t want anymore,” Sampton said.
Said Price, “We went far in the NorCals last year, and we can do it again. We’re not laying down. I know we’re hurting, but the season’s not over.”
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD and listen to his “Extra Point” every Wednesday on ESPN Radio 1320.