Inside the Topeka Expocentre Saturday, Rod Briggs walked to center court.
Under the bright beams of the 10,000-seat arena, the Lansing boys' basketball coach shook the hand of a KSHSAA official. He then accepted a baker's dozen of medals and turned to face his players.
Briggs saw a dejected group. A band of 12 young men that had given him every ounce of physical, mental and emotional effort for one goal, only to see that sacrifice come up seven-points shy of ultimate victory.
They were heartbroken.
Covered in sweat, floor-burns crisscrossed over their elbows and knees, each one trailed their leader with bloodshot eyes. There, in front of family and friends, teachers and classmates, strangers and counterparts, Briggs placed a silver medal around every one of their necks.
Finally, the Lions coach gathered them together for one last huddle among the hallowed atmosphere. He told them that they would return, that this was not the end, and lastly ― most importantly ― he told them he was proud.
"It was an awesome year," Briggs said minutes later. "This was a great team, the best team in our school history. We got where we wanted to be and gave it our best effort."
Following a valiant rally, the Lansing boys' basketball team saw a state championship slip out of its grasp Saturday. Down eight entering the fourth quarter, a 9-2 run put the Lions a point away from taking its first lead of the contest with two minutes left in regulation.
"I'm proud of the guys for not thinking the game was over when we got down early," Lansing senior guard Lucas Mein said. "This being my last basketball game, I can't even describe how much it meant for them to keep playing and almost pull it out."
No. 1 seeded Shawnee Mission South answered quickly though, sinking a 3-pointer that sent half of the arena into a craze while silencing the other half.
Like Lazarus the Lions rose again, however, when Roy Clayter stole a Raiders' pass and splashed home a free throw following a foul.
South again retaliated with two freebies from the charity stripe, but a deep 3-pointer from Joe Schneider moments later put the contest at 42-40 with 26 seconds left.
Lansing fouled quickly, making the Raiders earn every point ― which they did. Down 44-40, the Lions charged forward to reply as quick as possible. Yet, along the way, the ball squirted into a defender's hands.
A layup, a disheartened inbounds pass and three seconds later, the Lions watched its first ever state championship go into the hands of Shawnee Mission South. The 2013 Class 5A state final rested at 46-40.
Page 2 of 3 - "When it comes down to it, you have to be able to make a play and we didn't do it." Briggs said. "Then we fouled a guy who made all his free throws. They went 12-for-12 and that is an accomplishment on their part. They earned it."
The contest started out rough for Lansing. South's matchup zone caused problems for the Lions' offense while defensively, the squad couldn't stop Raider sharpshooter Dainan Swoope.
The guard nailed three first-quarter 3-pointers and was 4-for-5 from downtown for the game.
In the second quarter, Lansing continued to struggle against the rangy South fortifications until midway through, when a Zach Johnson 3-pointer knocked the team out of its slumber.
From there the squads traded baskets until a last-second layup by Mein placed the halftime score at 28-18.
"We just missed some shots and did some things a little out of character," Briggs said. "But at half we talked about defending better, rebounding better and making some plays. Just play free and confident. For the most part, we did that in the second half."
The third period saw the Lions become much more aggressive. Attacking the top of the zone, often through Clayter, the squad drove hard to the rim. Fouls mounted and Lansing was able to cut the deficit to 35-27 by quarter's end.
South started the fourth with a bucket to extend the advantage back out to double-digits, but that merely delayed the oncoming Lansing rush.
With aggressive offense and defense, the Lions put together a 9-0 run to chop the game to 37-36 with two minutes left. Nevertheless, the comeback fell just short, as did the team of its first ever state crown.
"We had some guys step up and make some plays," Briggs said. "We defended very well, that is what helped us a lot. Forced some turnovers here and there. Just couldn't quite finish it off."
Clayter finished with 14 points to lead the squad while Young had eight and Schneider added six. Both Donte Gibson and Mein contributed four, Jackson had three and Khalil Bailey scored one point.
As a team, the Lions shot 36 percent from the field, 61 percent from the charity stripe and made just 4-of-13 from the 3-point line. South had a 38 percent clip from the field, converted six of its 11 3-point attempts and was a perfect 12-for-12 from the free throw line.
"It's unreal that this is the last time that I'll be wearing a Lansing jersey," Young said. "It makes me feel proud. I've given my best effort and it was a pretty rewarding season at the end of it. The past three years have been really great years."
Page 3 of 3 - Lansing finished the season 22-2, Kaw Valley League conference champs and substate victors. The team reached the state final for the first time since 1950, where it also placed second 63 years ago.
"I'm proud," Mein said. "I just hope that the underclassmen can get back next year and finish it."