Certainly there's no shame in losing to the defending state champions by four points after being within a basket of the lead for most of the fourth quarter.
Dysart (21-7) emerged from its 4A-I semifinal with Sunnyslope (26-3) Thursday proud of how it played, but knowing it had a few opportunities to do more than just come close.
"I couldn't be more proud of the guys. We might have been the only 12 guys that thought we had a chance to win this game," Dysart coach John Eberlein said. "As much as people are going to say 'they did a great job hanging in there,' we really felt like we had a chance to win that game."
Dysart called a timeout trailing 53-49 with 2:01 remaining. Sunnyslope's star senior guard Royce Woolridge stole the ensuing inbound pass. From there, the Vikings ran out the clock with a four corners offense and made all eight of their free throws to salt away a 61-57 victory.
The first six minutes of the final quarter were more tense. Dysart senior guard Marcos Hererra nailed a three-point shot to cut Sunnyslope's lead to 47-46. Woolridge ended a two-minute scoreless stretch by hitting two free throws.
Sunnyslope senior foward Jesse Milleson picked up an intentional foul trying to keep Dysart off the offensive glass. Hererra made one of his two free throws, and the Demons could not score after getting the ball again because of the foul.
"At the end we battled back and we were right in the game. I think we had four or five possessions with the chance to tie it or take the lead," Eberlein said. "We just kept having empty possessions, which are going to kill you ... especially against the defending state champs."
Milleson built the lead to four by making two free throws. Dysart junior guard Pierre Jones answered, finishing a baseline drive with an up-and-under move. Milleson gave the Vikings their 53-49 advantage, grabbing and offensive rebound and laying it in.
Dysart shaved four points off Sunnyslope's halftime lead in the third quarter, running its offense through center Chris Heren. The slender 6-7 senior concentrated on rebounding in the first half, grabbing 11 of his game-high 16 boards.
Early in the third, Heren him a 15-foot jumper. His confidence boosted, Heren scored 10 of his 14 points in the quarter, trimming Sunnyslope's lead to 47-44 on a turnaround jumper two seconds before the buzzer.
"He's a good outside shooter. He got that going, got the ball inside more and had a couple of nice moves inside," Eberlein said.
The Demons had to regain their balance after a tough final minute of the first quarter and a near-collapse in the second quarter. Dysart started the game well, riding Hererra's energy on both ends. The senior harassed Woolridge on defense and attacked on offense, pumping in nine of his team-high 19 points.
"Marcos Hererra - I could not ask any more of that kid. He put his heart into that game, doing everything he could to deny (Woolridge) and also trying to get it done on the offensive end," Eberlein said. "He was carrying us offensively, he was just motoring. And I think he just lost his legs at the end."
With Sunnyslope down two late in the first quarter, Woolridge started to roll. He stuck a pull up jumper and closed the first quarter by swishing a 40-foot heave seconds before the buzzer.
In the second quarter, Woolridge showed why he'll be a Kansas Jayhawk next season. With Dysart trying to give Hererra a breather, he attacked, slaloming through the three or four Demon defenders. Even when Eberlein quickly sent his starters back in, Woolridge kept scoring.
Thirteen of Woolridge's game-high 28 points came in the second quarter. But Eberlein's biggest frustration in those eight minutes was the offense, limited to nine points by multiple turnovers and forced shots.
"We had probably a three- or four-minute stretch where we turned it over four out of five times with some bad passes," Eberlein said. "Defensively, we lost Woolridge when guys went for steals when they weren't supposed to. He took it to us. When he got his openings, he took advantage of it."
Despite that blip on the radar, Dysart showed well on the Jobing.com Arena stage. It's been a great ride for Eberlein and this senior class, both which started at the El Mirage school four years ago with a 5-20 record.
"We're so proud of them for where we've come from in the last five years to get into the semis. You can't ask for more," Eberlein said. "We told them when they go back and reflect on it they're going to realize how special this season was."
Seniors like Hererra, Heren, Ricardo Aroz, Leonard Brown, Bryce Jones and Paris Smythe helped change the culture of Dysart basketball. Now its up to the next generation, led by juniors Pierre Jones and Alex Brown, to meet the new standards.
"We got here because we worked hard in the summer, because of all the work we put in," Eberlein said. "These guys love basketball. They get mad if I cancel an open gym. I don't think we're going to slack on work ethic at all. We'll just try to set the foundation with the younger kids and hopefully we can keep building things."