If moments are the things you never forget, what happens when those moments don’t live up to your expectations?
It’s the question the Dunbar girls basketball team, after falling to Orlando Lake Highland Prep 68-62 on Wednesday in the Class 4A Championship, had to ask itself over and over again the following day.
“The last minute of the fourth quarter, I’ll remember that minute for the rest of my life, because that’s what it felt like, a lifetime,” senior Kiara Desamours said. “I’ll definitely remember and never forget that part of the game for as long as I live.”
It wasn’t the best couple of seconds.
“We played that screen all game the way we played it and then the one time we couldn’t afford to play it that way we did,” Dunbar head coach Dwayne Donnell said of leaving the Highlander’s Destinee Walker open for a game-tying three. “You don’t know why. How did we leave that kid? It’s dumbfounding.”
The 3-pointer led to overtime, which led to a come-from-behind win by Lake Highland, who many didn’t expect to be in the state title game in the first place. Walker almost beat the Tigers herself, scoring 34 points.
And so that moment, which Dunbar (23-5) had dreamed about and planned for and expected to celebrate in, had turned around so quickly, in a way that they will never forget
“We were holding back a lot of tears,” junior Respect Leaphart said. “I was holding back, the team was holding back. It’s like the third or fourth time this happened and this game felt different. It felt like we had it.
“So it’s like what did we do wrong?” Leaphart asked. “We improved a lot, but it still felt like we weren’t doing something right.”
Thing is, they got lost in those 32 minutes. It represented everything the Tigers had worked for over the season. The team felt like it had earned the state title, perhaps even saw it as validation for the kind of success they had had over the last four years.
They had scheduled national caliber teams like Central (Ark.) and St. Francis (Ga.) and Jacksonville Ribault and Miami Country Day, all for this moment.
But what they soon came to find was that, in all of that dejection and disappointment, there were moments that they missed.
The numbers — 109-10 wins over the last four years — and the championships were nice. Conference titles. District championships. Regional victories.
They had won all of them and had reached the state final four four times, three times reaching the final game.
They were state champions in 2012. They were runner-ups in 2013-14 and this season. All of these things mattered.
But if Dunbar had learned anything about itself over the past four years, too, it was that their was strength in unity.
Midway through the season, when sophomore Dekeriya Patterson was having a hard time off the court, the Tigers offered their hand.
This wasn’t about basketball. It was about life — meeting obstacles and overcoming them.
“It’s about we’re here for you,” Leaphart said.
The team had suspensions — some missing as many as three games for off-the-court incidents — but by the final game the 12 players who had started the season were the same 12 that ended it on the bench.
“Even though we did face some challenges, we overcame a lot of them,” senior Keri Jewett said. “The girls, we were like a family.”
Days after the team’s Region 4A-3 championship win over Tampa Catholic, Dunbar gathered at freshman Ja’Miah Bland’s house.
They watched film. They talked strategy. They clicked again.
“And we didn’t gossip,” Desamours said. “You don’t see that with high school girls.”
These bonds were the lasting memories that the Tigers will remember.
They wouldn’t forget the dinner at Applebee’s late after that state championship loss to Lake Highland.
They wouldn’t forget about the hours they lost track of, or the stories they told, or the laughs they shared.
“These kids in 10 years, they’ll have a lot of good things to talk about,” Donnell said. “They can say, ‘This is what I did when I was in high school.’”
Moments not soon lost.