TAMPA — As Sickles began that long walk from bench to locker room for the final time Tuesday night, words of encouragement came from the stands.
"Keep them together, Coach," an onlooker yelled to Gryphons coach Mark Key. "You'll be back."
Sickles' season-ending 55-47 loss to Sarasota in the Class 6A region semifinals served as a lesson to this young, talent-laden squad. The Gryphons have no seniors and started two freshmen, a sophomore and a junior.
"It was just one of those nights," Key said. "We couldn't get it going. It's a tough loss but on the positive side, everyone is coming back and we'll be back in this situation again.
"Next year, we'll know what it's like to be in one of these games."
It didn't help that the Gryphons' leading scorer, sophomore Amber Henson, was called for her third foul less than five minutes into the game, taking her 19.4 points, 11.4 rebounds and 4.6 blocks a game with her to the bench for the remainder of the quarter.
And when Henson returned early in the second, Sickles was forced to play zone to protect her, and Sarasota ran out to a 21-10 lead midway through the quarter.
The Gryphons cut the lead to three twice in the second half but couldn't get any closer.
"They made a lot of charges at us, and we had to burn some timeouts to get our composure back," Sarasota coach Amy Mazner said. "That's what happens when you have the athleticism that Sickles has."
Henson, who scored a team-high 14, scored six consecutive points to make the score 48-45 with 1:54 remaining, but Sailors freshman Kelly Jutras answered with a 3-pointer that gave Sarasota another cushion.
"We were trying to come together in the end, but it didn't work," said freshman point Bre Crum, who added 10 points, six assists and five steals. "They were knocking down their shots, we weren't guarding well. They just wanted it more than us. Next year we just hope we'll give it back."