OCALA — Shantel Houston emerged from the locker room looking disgusted.
There were no tears, just a pair of fiery eyes searching for the prey that had just made its slippery escape.
Houston, Wesley Chapel's lone senior, also happens to be the one player in program history to play in three region finals.
After Saturday's 50-38 loss at Ocala Vanguard, the Wildcats' third consecutive region final loss, Houston thought of those previous defeats to Winter Haven and Lake Howell, then unloaded.
"I think this is the only time we actually could have gotten over the hump," Houston said. "We know we could have won."
The overwhelming issue for Wesley Chapel (25-4) was turnovers. And the toughest part for Wildcats coach Karim Nohra to stomach was watching his two most experienced players — Houston and Hannah Noble — make key mistakes.
"They were absolutely beatable," Nohra said. "We didn't do it tonight. …The juniors and seniors really didn't come to play tonight and that's the difference."
One example was the end of the second quarter.
Wesley Chapel had possession and a chance to tie and perhaps even take a one-point lead into the locker room.
Noble made an untimely pass to a teammate looking in another direction. The ball went out of bounds and Nohra almost ripped his hair out.
The worst part? Vanguard (29-0) came down, made a few quick passes with the ball rolling off the fingertips of Adriana Bell for a buzzer-beating 3-pointer and a 27-22 lead.
"That boosted us up at halftime," Knights guard Jazzmin Bethea said. "That got us pumped to come back and play harder and stronger after the half."
Vanguard continued to chip away in the final 16 minutes thanks to a solid starting five, including a game-high 16 points from Bethea.
Wildcats freshmen Simone Brown and Andrea Mauger each scored 11. Houston finished with four and Noble with nine points, all in the first quarter.
"The young puppies ought to see this is nothing more than a regular old game," Nohra said. "If you psych yourself out you're not going to play your best. Hopefully, they'll have many more of these opportunities."
Izzy Gould can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 421-3886.