Fans screamed at the top of their lungs.
The bleachers shook as a frenzied student section jumped up and down and the cheerleaders stomped their feet.
Players on the Navarre bench sat on the edge of their seats, clutching hands and hoping for the best.
With 5:33 left in Thursday night’s riveting 7A regional quarterfinal, the Raiders had momentum in their hands, leading Leon by seven points. The magic of Navarre’s storybook season was still alive.
But sometimes momentum slips out of a team’s grasp and magic disappears, and in the end, Navarre couldn’t hold on against the Lions, falling 54-49 as its season came to a close.
“Our girls didn’t quit,” first-year Navarre head coach Jackie Coyne said. “At the end of the day, I’m proud of them. We lost to a good basketball team.”
The Raiders (19-7), the champions of District 1-7A, trailed 15-8 at the end of the first quarter as several shots rolled off the rim and forced passes resulted in turnovers.
But as rugged as the opening eight minutes were, Navarre eventually settled down and only went into halftime down 25-21.
The Raiders found themselves staring up at a 30-21 deficit with 6:10 to go in the third, and then, momentum turned in their favor.
Amber Leggett, only a sophomore, started a 20-4 run with a layup, the basket counting as two of her team-high 17 points.
A 3-pointer by De’Naizha Elder tied the game at 32-32 with 56 seconds left and the quarter ended with the score tied at 34-34.
Navarre soon surged ahead 41-34 and it appeared the Raiders were on their way to the Sweet 16. Turnovers and clutch shots by Leon down the stretch left Navarre wondering what might have been.
The Raiders tried to climb back into it, taking several shots, only to watch the ball roll off the rim or bounce off the backboard.
Still, a year after winning only two games, the Raiders have every reason to be proud of how far they came this season. One tough night doesn’t devalue the accomplishments of four months of hard work.
“They set a standard for the program and accomplished so much this season,” Coyne said. “They listened to a crazy lady screaming all of the time and believed in themselves. I’m proud of their effort.”
Read more in the Feb. 11 edition of Navarre Press or subscribe online here.