LAKELAND — King's remarkable ride to its first final four not only included 21 straight wins, it filled a once half-empty high school gym with fans and promise, and along the way took the Lions' program to heights it had never reached.
In the days leading up to their Class 5A state semifinal against Gainesville High, there was an aura of invincibility. The Lions hadn't lost a game in 2009. The coaches and players forgot what losing felt like.
The Hurricanes reminded them quickly Wednesday, turning the high point in King's basketball history into a season-ending 62-48 loss at the Lakeland Center.
"With all the positive things this team has done all season, to come this far and lose like this is a bad feeling," said senior Toarlyn Fitzpatrick, who spent the final five minutes on the bench after fouling out, a towel draped over his head. "I don't want to say you can't win them all because with this team I thought anything was possible."
King's run was dictated by solid defense and a quick transition offense, but the Lions (23-7) met their match in Gainesville. The Hurricanes (28-3) broke open a close game early, ending the first quarter with 21-4 run.
"They pressured us into things we normally don't do," King coach Sam Lanier said. "I thought we were a little impatient on the offensive end of the court."
Gainesville guard Greg Gantt, a Florida Atlantic recruit, scored 20 of his game-high 33 in the first half and the Hurricanes made 5-of-9 3-pointers by halftime. King went into the half shooting just 29.6 percent from the field, its scoring total doubled by Gainesville, 36-18.
"It was unbelievable," junior guard Rethell Oliver said.
Said Lanier: "They were similar to some of the teams we've played. … I don't think we've played against a shooter was good as Gantt."
The Lions rallied in the third quarter, taking advantage of Gainesville's switch from man defense to a 2-3 zone. They narrowed the gap to 49-38 early in the fourth but never got any closer.
"I thought we had an opportunity to get back in the game," Fitzpatrick said. "We just couldn't get over that hump. They wanted it more, so they got it."
King's younger players wanted it for Fitzpatrick, the Georgia Southern-bound senior who led them.
"I really wanted to do it for this man," said sophomore point guard Chauncey Day (team-high 16 points), pointing to Fitzpatrick.
For Fitzpatrick, the memory will have to suffice.
"Not a lot of teams can say they made it here," Fitzpatrick said. "I don't want to say it's enough to get here, but we're one of the few teams to make it here."