BRADENTON — In the end, Dan Wright's finale was not a memorable one. The last game of his 35-year coaching career at Lakewood on Wednesday was a synopsis of everything that had changed, everything that had allowed the competition to catch up.
Lakewood Ranch 58, Lakewood 52.
The Mustangs won on their home court and move on to the final of the Class 4A, District 10 tournament. The semifinal loss snapped the Spartans' streak of making the playoffs at 13 seasons.
"I told my wife before I left that we'll see if we can continue the journey," Wright said.
This was the final stop on Wright's farewell tour. He had watched his share of coaches in the county come and go. Some left on their own, others kicking and screaming.
Wright would go quietly.
There was no stomping his feet, no yelling instructions, even after Lakewood allowed a 38-34 lead in the third quarter to evaporate as Lakewood Ranch hit a free throw and sank two 3-pointers to take the lead for good.
The Spartans tried to rally. Alphonso Evans hit a 3-pointer in the final two minutes to make it a one possession game. But Lakewood would not get any closer.
As the seconds ticked away, there were just a handful of well-wishers crowded around him. After both teams shook hands, assistant coach Anthony Lawrence embraced Wright, as much to numb the sting of a final loss as to honor him.
With the gymnasium nearly empty, Wright walked across the court and into the locker room for the last speech to his players.
"It's a disappointing loss," Wright said. "Especially for the seniors on this team. It's been a long time since Lakewood has not had something to play for at the end of the season. But the kids fought hard like they had all season.
"I guess I'll be like Roy Rogers and get my white hat and white horse and ride off into the sunset."