A drastic improvement by the Riverside basketball program was overshadowed by three consecutive loses to end the season.
After a 6-18 (1-9 in the Tri-6 conference), season last year and missing the NCHSAA state playoffs, Riverside finished the regular season 15-10 (7-3) and hosted Leesville Road in the first round of the playoffs.
Leesville had just come off a huge conference tournament win over Millbrook, the number one team in the state, and a conference tournament championship win over Broughton.
In contrast, Riverside had lost their last 2 out of 3, both of which against Panther Creek in overtime.
“Basketball is not rocket science,” coach Brian Strickland told the team during their pregame meeting. “It is about who you’re playing for tonight and why you’re playing tonight, who you are playing for tonight is for the guys beside you. Why you’re playing tonight is because you guys have earned the opportunity to be here. The difference will be how you play tonight. Do you play not to lose, or do you play to win?”
The first quarter was full of frustration as The Pride started strong and lead 23-9 heading into the second quarter. The team appeared down, however that all changed when senior forward Jevon Johnson caught air and laid down a vicious dunk.
The dunk lead to a 10-4 run by Riverside, capped off with junior forward Jikari Johnson tying the game up at 29. Heading into halftime they’d cut Leesville’s lead to 33-31.
The third quarter began exactly as the first, and Leesville’s potent offense appearing to be unstoppable again. At the end of the third, the score was 49-40, and the team had a brief meeting. The coaching staff was frustrated with the players arguments between one another.
As fingers began to point and teammates began blaming one another, the coaching staff sat down and said, “You guys figure it out.”
Senior guard Myles Sanford gathered the team together, and told them to come together for one more quarter. Then, as the starters were going onto the court for the fourth quarter, they huddled together.
Unfortunately Leesville continued its dominance in the fourth quarter, and the game ended 67-52. The final buzzer also signaled the end to many of the seniors’ playing careers, and tears as well as a sense of emptiness filled the post-game meeting.
“At the end of the day, I am extremely proud of you guys,” Strickland said after the game. “I believe our seniors this year have left this program in a better place than it was a year ago. You guys took our 6-18 team last year, and put us in a position to win two conference championships and make it to the state playoffs.”
The team got up one final time and huddled together with their hands up and heads down. Their season ends the same way it began. Strickland called out “ Riverside on three: one, two, three,” everyone shouted “Riverside,” and returned to the locker one last time.