LORETTO - Joe Hurd tried his best to console his Hollidaysburg Area High School girls basketball players with a long postgame talk after their 52-43 loss to State College.
Lady Tiger Beth Kanski wasn't buying into it.
''Coach was telling us that he wasn't upset with the effort we gave. We just weren't clicking tonight, I guess,'' Kanski said. ''He can say whatever he wants, but it probably isn't going to make us feel better. It's just a tough loss.''
It needn't be said that the pair of District 6 Class AAAA championship defeats to State College - the boys fell, 67-50 in the nightcap at St. Francis University - made Tuesday a disappointing evening for the Hollidaysburg Area High School basketball community.
It probably hit no one harder than Lady Tiger seniors Kanski and Hannah Bourne.
Most of Mick Pentoney's Golden Tigers are underclassmen with an apparently bright future and other shots at district gold ahead. Those who were seniors didn't really have the expectations in the past as they had this year, and the Hollidaysburg boys were seeded second to State.
The Lady Tigers were the underdog, too - they came into a three-team tournament as the third seed. However, that just made the emotional roller-coaster's twists and turns all the more.
Bourne and Kanski were the only returning starters from last year's 20-win Lady Tiger team that went into the postseason as the No. 1 seed and favorite only to be bounced in their first game by a sub.-500 Altoona team it had already beaten twice. Hollidaysburg avenged that loss by turning the tables on the Lady Lions Saturday, and the Lady Tigers felt good about their chances against State College, with whom it had split two regular-season games.
Leading with less than three minutes to go in the first half and only down by four midway through the fourth quarter only buoyed their spirits ... and that only made losing that much harder.
''I think that's the thing we're struggling with the most,'' Bourne said. ''We came off that big win, but we knew we had one more step to do to beat our next-biggest rival in State College. We were so excited, pumped up for that game, to have that blow, it [stunk].''
Hurd took it hard, too.
''We had opportunities,'' Hurd said. ''It's been so long since we've won one of these, and these girls wanted to be the team to do it. I told them they should have been, because this group of girls approaches the sport you want players to. They enjoy each other. It's so disappointing.''
For all its rich history, going back through the years with Jill Colabrese, Pam Webber, Krissy Heinbaugh, Vickie Mikesic, the late Lynnette Williams and Amanda Ottaway, Hollidaysburg has only hoisted the 6-AAAA championship trophy twice. The last time was 1991.
''[During shoot-around earlier Tuesday], we were looking at the banners as we were shooting. We were like, 'We want that.' Because it's been since '91. We were just like, 'This is ours,''' Bourne said. ''It would have meant a lot. It was before a lot of us were born.''
Last year seemed to be the season that would end the drought. Led by Ottaway, a Division I college recruit, and UPJ signees Taylor Griffith and Sara Trimarco, the talent was there, and the team played like it until the 41-38 loss to Altoona at Bellefonte Area High School.
''I think last year, to tell the truth, was a lot harder, because everyone expected you to win. We were all confident. We thought we were going to win last year,'' Kanski said.
This year's Lady Tigers weren't given a very strong chance to contend for a district title with Altoona returning its nucleus and high-scoring guard Chrissy Cooper back for State. That irony was not lost on Hurd, who, if he had put last year's heartbreak behind him was reminded when Ottaway called him from Davidson before the game to wish him luck.
''She said she wished she could be here,'' Hurd said. ''That was so tough last year, because it was so obvious we were the team to beat. We came in here [this year] as the three seed. I think we liked the position we were in where we could show people we were pretty good, and we were playing well together.''
''Nobody expected us to be good this year,'' Kanski said, ''but we were all confident.''
The girls loss to State College might not have just been deflating for the Lady Tigers, but to their male counterparts, waiting in the wings, knowing what a victory would have meant.
''We're close with those girls, and we see what they go through, and it puts a little doubt in our seniors' minds,'' Pentoney said. ''Losses aren't inevitable.''
Now both teams have to put one difficult night in the background. The Golden Tigers and Lady Tigers will need to win play-in games next Tuesday against the fifth-seeded team from District 7 to advance to the main PIAA tournament. It will test their resiliency - especially so for the seniors.
''Tonight we can sulk, but tomorrow, we have to get back to work again,'' Kanski said. ''As seniors, we all have to try to pick up the rest of the team and they'll all follow our attitude. So we have to try to stay positive and work hard.''
Cmor can be reached at 946-7440 or firstname.lastname@example.org