A qualifying position at the state tournament was within the Knights’ grasp after the Lourdes girls’ basketball team put together a fantastic effort against Meridian at the district final at Crete High School on Friday.
In the end, the veteran Mustangs made just enough plays to turn a 42-39 decision to their advantage.
So Lourdes closed out an 18-8 season.
Despite the year coming to an end, however, Lourdes goes into the offseason flush with talent  and overwhelmed with appreciation for a senior class that provided contributions that spurred this edition of the Knights to success while leaving a legacy that will bear fruit for seasons to come.
Meridian’s players and coaches will be the first to tell you that Friday’s game was a blast furnace of competition. And it took an impressive second half rally to send the Mustangs to state.
Lourdes scored 11 points on offense in the first quarter, the last five on three and two-point shots by Ivey Meyer.
A one-point lead grew to 10 by half as Jacey Kreifels, Macey Allgood and Meyer all hit threes in the second quarter.
“We came out and we executed well offensively,” said Coach Clay Carlton. “We shot the ball really well in the first half”
Scoring wasn’t the only high point either. The team was getting a great effort on the interior from senior star Laura Box and the Knight defense was shifting its strategy and keeping Meridian on its heels.
“We had them confused with our defense,” said Carlton. “The first half was a thing of beauty. It’s the kind of what we’ve been waiting for all year.”
Meridian came out of the locker room with an edge and went after Lourdes with an increased intensity. But the Knights hung in there and fought through adversity.
“It was still seven (point margin) going into the fourth quarter and we didn’t play all that well in the third quarter,” Carlton said.
Meridian got two fourth quarter steals and finished with lay ups to spark a rally that had them ahead in the game’s final seconds.
Lourdes had a chance to tie or take the lead on a sideline in bounds play with 13 or so seconds left. And the Knights had another sideline play with six or so seconds left where they could have scored and tied the game.
Neither play worked.
Coach Carlton said Meridian simply made the plays. That’s all it came down to.
“Hats off to them for doing that,” Carlton said.
The Lourdes coach noted that Meridian had been in championship-type environments. Lourdes had not.
“They had played in a big moment before and understood what it took,” said Carlton. “We just kind of lost our composure and didn’t look to attack at the right times.”
Sometimes the plays work and sometimes they don’t, but despite defeat, Carlton had nothing but positive things to talk about with this Knight team.
“There is not a lot to be disappointed about. We played well. We just struggled down the stretch to get it done,” he said.
Scoring for the Knights in the loss were Laura Box, 10; Libby Fulton, 10; Ivey Meyer, eight; Macey Allgood, five; Jacey Kreifels, three; Libby Baumert, two; and Maggie Funke, one.
With the loss, the Knights say goodbye to an unbelievably productive senior class, one that will go down as the winningest in Lourdes history.
In four years of providing an inside presence for the Knights on both sides of the court, Box amassed impressive records. She is the season and career leader in points and rebounds and the career leader in field goal percentage.
Carlton noted that her impact for the program has been immense and, even as a freshman, when  most players are not ready for the fire of varsity competition, Box stepped up. She did it because she knew the team needed what she could provide.
That kind of leadership example doesn’t stop with Box. Libby Fulton and Maggie Funke share those kinds of traits as well.
All three made plays on the court during the season and they also spent an immense amount of time getting ready for those moments.
“They made that the expectation of the program to put time in during the offseason,” said Carlton.
The Knight coach said he worked with this senior class since they were eighth graders and is appreciative  of the culture they created.
Although it might not be much consolation to them, that culture has put the program in position to get to state as soon as next year.
That’s because the players, from freshman to junior, are ready to continue the legacy. They already demonstrated that determination this year.
“Our underclassmen really did come along,” said Carlton. “We’ve got a ton coming back.
“You’ve got four different classes and we got contributions from each class. They all gave us something,” he said.