OSSIAN – Surrounded by supportive fans and still showcasing a glistening head of sweat generated by the fervor of a close game, Bellmont coach Andy Heim answered question after question.
“What was the difference late in the game?”
“What was the final play call?”
“What has this season meant to your seniors?”
Just minutes before, Heim and his team had been on the cusp of ending the program’s 17-year sectional title drought. They could feel it. Taste it even.
Then, it was gone.
After leading for most of Monday’s Class 3A Norwell Sectional game against Marion, Bellmont watched it slip away in the final minutes. Down 46-44 with a chance to tie, the Squaws missed two good looks at the hoop from within three feet of the hoop.
The horn sounded. And the drought continues.
But there was a different feeling following Monday’s loss than the previous 16 season-ending losses since the last sectional crown in 2002. This team may not have won a postseason title, but it accomplished something.
Five years ago, Bellmont went 0-21 on the season. Winless. Five times in that 2013-14 campaign, the Squaws were held to 20 or less points in a game.
It was the low point of a program.
Fresh off earning four wins the next year, Grace Hunter and Carrie Scott entered the program. Over the course of four years, Hunter developed into arguably the best player in Bellmont girls’ basketball history, with Scott the perfect complement on the court and in the locker room.
Despite Monday’s loss, the Squaws finished this season 21-3.
What a turnaround.
“When Grace and Carrie walked through the door, attitudes changed,” said Heim about the difference his two seniors have made. “It wasn’t because they yelled or screamed or said we would do this or that, they worked hard and everybody followed suit.
“Now when you walk into the gym, the mindset is everyone is working hard and you’re the weird one who is not working hard. Those two started it. Look at our record the last four years. It’s not because of me, it’s because of them.”
Hunter finished with a game-high 18 points on Monday, while Scott added a three-pointer for her lone score. As the seconds ticked down, Hunter worked desperately to get a good look, one that would tie the game or even win it, ending nearly two decades of postseason futility.
But Marion executed down the stretch. It denied Hunter the dribble drive. It closed out on her on the outside.
The final play didn’t see Hunter touch the ball at all.
But the short-term pain of a loss will give way to long-term happiness and hope. Hunter and Scott changed a culture, one that has even brighter days ahead. Sophomore Morgan Shifferly scored 12 points on Monday, many of which came off of good looks from Hunter. Junior Kenzie McMahon added nine, another key piece that will be back next year.
The future is full of optimism. A team once a pushover is now reinvented thanks to a pair of seniors.
For Hunter and Scott, the high school hoops journey has ended. But for Bellmont as a program, it is truly just beginning.