More than once in this space I’ve written about the sense of finality which comes with the postseason.
In every round of the postseason one of the teams loses its last game. Every team except the state champion eventually loses.
Sadness and disappointment set in when postseason dreams die. All the hopes and dreams and everything the players and coaches have worked for all season vanish in an instant.
But for this year’s girls basketball season just concluded it goes beyond the usual song and dance.
For our two sectional finalists, the Bloomfield Lady Cardinals and the Linton-Stockton Lady Miners the pain of seeing the season end stung even more.
As I wrote when the Lady Miners lost to South Knox in the sectional championship at North Knox the bitter pill of defeat is even harder to swallow when unfortunate and unforeseen circumstances intervene.
And it happened to both teams.
Bloomfield’s Malea Toon and Linton’s Vanessa Shafford were both injured and severely limited in their sectional final games.
Not only are Toon and Shafford the best players on their respective teams, they’re two of the finest this area has seen in recent memory.
Toon went down in the first minute of Bloomfield’s loss to North Central, aggravating an ankle injury she originally injured during volleyball season.
Shafford suffered a foot injury sometime in the Lady Miners’ win over North Knox the previous night. I’m not certain if it’s the same injury that sidelined her for four games in December of last season.
Both gave it a valiant effort. They tried to play through the pain. They just couldn’t go.
It has to be a helpless feeling knowing your team needs you but there’s little you can do to help – especially knowing how much you could have helped, if only you could have been out on the floor at 100 percent.
And the outcomes most likely would have been different.
I’ve yet to meet a coach who would use an injury to a key player as an excuse. “Next Man Up” seems to be the popular refrain especially at the professional level.
But even there, witness the Indianapolis Colts without Andrew Luck or the Indiana Pacers minus Victor Oladipo.
“Next Man Up” or in this case “Next Girl Up” simply isn’t a reality at the high school level.
It’s doubly disappointing because both teams had their sights set higher. Bloomfield was gunning for a sectional four-peat. Linton was eyeing a possible regional championship and beyond. But those postseason dreams came crashing down.
As I’ve also written for the seniors it's the last time they'll don the school colors and represent their school in competition. And for those who don't go on to play at the next level – which is to say most of them – it's the last time they'll put on a uniform.
And for Malea Toon, not only was it her last game for the Cardinal and White – it was her last game, period.
There is no doubt Malea Toon could play collegiately, somewhere, if she chose to. But Malea has decided to attend Indiana State University, study chemistry, and apply for the physician’s assistant program.
I say, “Good for her!”
Many kids will go somewhere – anywhere – just to continue playing without considering the rest of their future.
I applaud Malea’s decision.
Vanessa Shafford is just a sophomore. If all goes well she’ll have two more great high school seasons.
And based on what I’ve seen she definitely has prospects of playing at the next level.
I can only hope she recovers and remains injury-free.
But you can’t help but feel the pain for the other kids – their teammates – who also missed out on the chance to celebrate postseason success.