Frederick Toomer's postgame locker room speech lasted a little longer than usual Friday night.
The Ridgeland-Hardeeville High School girls basketball team huddled together inside a classroom outside the Jaguars' gymnasium just minutes after an excruciating 56-53 setback to Burke in the Class 2-A playoffs. As time passed, Toomer's message to his team became simple -- hearts had to be mended, lessons had to be learned and new goals had to be realized.
"(There was) some sadness, some broken hearts, some hurt feelings," Toomer said. "(We're) just trying to use this loss and relate to some life situations ... try to use it as a teachable moment."
Those lessons haven't been hard to come by this year for Toomer's new team. The group formed a new nucleus after the Ridgeland and Hardeeville high schools merged last summer, bringing forward more challenges as they tried to create new chemistry. How the group responded from that issue is how Toomer hopes they react to this latest bit of adversity.
"These girls were thrust into a situation, as far as schools consolidating, that they had no control over," Toomer said. "They had decisions to make about participation in sports, specifically basketball. That's one of the things I talked to them about, how to continue to press on regardless of what situations there are, especially if they are beyond your control."
Control is something Ridgeland-Hardeeville (16-7) had plenty of heading into the final moments of their second-round matchup. The Jaguars held a 53-46 lead over Burke (18-8) with just over two minutes to play but watched as the Bulldogs ended the game on a 10-0 run.
The Jaguars had several chances to stay in it but missed a handful of shots from underneath the basket as Burke moved out front.
All-state standout Aaliyah Hill missed two free throws with her team down by one with 14.6 seconds left and Ny'jae Boozer turned it over on the next possession. Burke then sank a pair of free throws from the line and Ridgeland-Hardeeville was unable to get away a final shot, sending the Bulldogs into a dogpile at midcourt.
The win moved the upstart team from Charleston into the third round. Fourth-seeded Burke was swept by the Jaguars in the regular season.
"We didn't stop them and we couldn't score," Toomer said. "That was it. ... We missed several layups from point blank range during that little run."
Burke's Bria Brown led all scorers with 26 points, 17 of which came in a first half that saw Hill and Boozer sidelined for the Jaguars with early foul trouble. But Ridgeland-Hardeeville trailed by just two at the break and watched as Hill scored 12 of her 14 points in the second half, leading into what looked to be a comfortable advantage late.
"Her performance was typical of how she's played all year," Toomer said. "She'll come in and give you spurts where it's like genius on the court offensively."
Hill is one of only three seniors leaving Toomer's roster this year and represents the only starter that won't be back. That's encouraging for a Jaguars team that fell just short of a quarterfinal appearance for the third straight year.
"There's something to be excited about," Toomer said.
Burke 56, Ridgeland-Hardeeville 53
Burke -- Bria Brown 26, Latasha Jones 12, Breona Kelly 9, Treshana Meyers 4, Chantel Brightmen-Haynes 3, Brittany Kwot 2
Ridgeland-Hardeeville -- Aaliyah Hill 14, Denesha Page 12, Ny'jae Boozer 9, Alima Upchurch 6, Jayme Chisholm 6, Ravon Grant 4, Tiara Nelson 2