A Heartbreaking End to a Magical Season


Michael Clubb, Lexington Herald-Leader

[RICHMOND, KY] Lafayette’s Anaya Brown, left, Olivia Cathers, center, and Savannah Simpson, right, hug each other after the Lafayette vs. Franklin County 11th Region high school girls basketball championship game on Saturday, March 5, 2022, at McBrayer Arena at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, Kentucky. Franklin County won 41-29.

29.6 seconds left. The championship game is about over. I quickly packed my things and slung my backpack over my shoulder, resisting the urge to chuckle as I heard the heckling from the Franklin County student section. The buzzer finally sounded and I crossed the court, trying my hardest to dodge all of the different emotions of high school basketball—only for those emotions to stop me dead in my tracks when I finally reached the Lafayette bench.

I immediately saw six players crying, a number that increased as I looked down the row. I saw the seniors wiping away tears as they embraced one another. The coaching staff was cold and listless, radiating solemnity while they processed their defeat- their failure. Even the student manager, Ryan Cooley, was staring off into space. It was as if someone had died, which is fitting when you consider the meaning of the game to these girls.

Despite being our student journalist, having never attended a single practice and only a few regular season games, the only word I could spit out was “welp.”

But in my head, I had a few more words attached to that welp. Because no matter how you boiled it down, that was it. The season is over.

The Lafayette Lady Generals had fallen short of their season goal with a 41-29 loss to Franklin County in the KHSAA Region 11 finals.

The first half was back and forth, with our Lady Generals prevailing the first 16 minutes, 15-14. Olivia Cathers had ten of those points. Beastmode. It was scrappy, ugly, and physical; all the makings of a high school football game, except it was women’s basketball.

While some may say that the intensity of a basketball game leaves the floor at halftime, that wasn’t the case Saturday night. A Lafayette fan ran out on the court with the Generals’ flag. He sprinted along the sideline, and rounded left towards the baseline. With smoke billowing from his shoes, he blew by the coaches and cameramen at the speed of sound. But then, the fan added the secret sauce to the regional rivalry crockpot. He gave the Franklin County side of the arena what appeared to be the one finger salute, without missing a beat. Booing and heckling ensued, as many of the Franklin faithful offered the salute right back to him along with some choice four letter words.

The fan completed his lap and tried to jump back into the stands, but was caught by none other than Lafayette Athletic Director Littleton Ward. After a short chat, he was whisked away by the Lafayette administration into the wooden labyrinth under McBrayer Arena, never to be seen again.

The removal prompted an ovation by both sides, but presumably for different reasons.

The second half started with a boom.

Gracyn Grantz for three, automatic. 19-14 Lady Generals.

Anaya Brown working down low, wet like water. 21-16 Lady Generals.

Lafayette had snatched a five point lead from the defending region champs, and called a timeout.

I typed in my notes “HUGE” because that’s what the opening segment was. With the emotion from the players, the student section, and the fans, McBrayer Arena was more than just loud, it was full of life. I couldn’t help but think about all of the coaches and players that told me how when it comes to this sport, Lafayette does it right. At that moment, I was simply surrounded by passion for our girls, and I didn’t even type anything in my notes about it either, because all anyone could’ve really done was sit back and take it in.

But then disaster struck.

Out of the timeout, the game began to unravel for our girls. Franklin County’s Patience Lester scores and draws the foul: 21-19.

Lester puts it back off of a missed shot, 21-21. Tie game.

Franklin County hit a three, stole it from the Lady Generals, and cashed in on their free possesion to make it 26-21. Two free throws ended the third quarter with Franklin on top 28-21.

In a panic, I said in my notes that “Lafayette couldn’t buy a point right now,” aimlessly and helplessly hoping that the words in my untitled Google Doc could jinx Franklin County into giving up a bucket, but it didn’t happen.

Lafayette finally ended a near eight minute scoring drought with two free throws from Olivia Cathers, but by then it appeared to be too late. The lead was still 30-23 deep in the fourth quarter, and Franklin County scored again on the following possession.

The Lady Flyers had outscored the Lady Generals 14-2 out of the timeout to seize control of the game, and the championship.

After the game, I realized that the solemnity of defeat is a feeling that is never left on the court. It follows you to your car, your home, or if you’re me: Waffle House.

I walked in, went to sit down at the counter, but was told it was closed and had to move anywhere else. I settled on a booth, and spread my papers and chromebook out across the table with my backpack sitting across from me like some sort of awkward date in desperate need of an icebreaker. I ordered a coke, but was told the coke was flat and couldn’t be served. I then tried sweet tea, but was promptly told they were out, and so I finally settled on what tasted like sink water. With everything being so out of place at that moment, I was at a loss. I felt defeated, and I hadn’t even played. That feeling of solemnity and sorrow was one that had followed me from the arena to the Bypass Waffle House, and my appetite wasn’t the same as it was after the prior victory on Thursday night. In the same way that it felt like someone had died after the buzzer sounded, my postgame meal felt like I had just left the hospital after seeing someone die; and the same with my drive home. It was cold, quiet, and instead of eating my food I could only manage to try and process what just happened. Even better, write an article about it. As I sat alone and began to douse my spongey waffles in syrup, I once again could only muster up one thought.

Damn. That’s it. The time I spent covering the 2021-22 Lafayette Lady Generals had drawn to a close.

It’s a weird realization, knowing that our students had to marinate in the pain of defeat on a 45 minute drive from Richmond back to Lexington on a Saturday night, but also do homework and study for the ACT coming on the following Tuesday morning, just like the rest of Lafayette High School.

I mention the ACT because the truth is, as the emotion of high school basketball swallows our students, our teachers, our coaches, our fans, and a “Student Journalist” like myself, I think we all often forget that everyone on the floor Saturday night was a high school student. Sure, our girls fell short, but our Lady Generals still had a season to be proud of, and based on our student section turnout recently- I can’t be the only person who enjoyed the ride.

All of the time I spent note-typing, interviewing, hooting, hollering, writing, studying, and organizing while covering this team was a blast, and I can say with a full bout of confidence that I loved every second of it. As I continued to sit alone in that Richmond Waffle House, basking in not only the sorrow, but the pride of a concluded basketball season, I can proudly write that I love this team, this school, and this student section. While our Lady Generals fell in combat Saturday night, this team was a battalion of women so strong that their Sweet 16 ambitions didn’t merely end, but they ended with honor and valor.

As not just a journalist, but a student, I love our girls, and I loved every second of this season, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Go Generals.