Tears came early for the Kennedy Lady Eagles Thursday night. As teammates practiced free throw shooting during halftime, senior shooting guard Susan Valiphone sat on the bench and kept to herself. Down only three points with two quarters to go, tears trickled down her cheeks.
On paper Kennedy and Salesian looked like a good boxing match. Both teams were nearly 20 games over .500. But in person the Lady Eagles looked like a high school team, and Salesian, with their height, speed, muscle and lightning bug-colored tennis shoes, looked like a WNBA team. And after three quarters of play the Lady Eagles’ three-point deficit swelled to 17.
Salesian would go on to win the Tri-County League semi-final game 69-58, ending Kennedy’s Cinderella season and hopes for a championship with a 23-5 record. Senior guard Raven Caldwell led the Lady Eagles with 17 points, while junior Mariya Moore scored 33 points for the Lady Pride.
“Everybody here thought we were going to get smacked up,” assistant coach Doug Frazier said after the game. “It’s tough. We’ll take it on the chin if that’s how you feel, but Salesian is ranked 24th in the state—we’re ranked 300th.”
The Lady Eagles never gave up. To start the fourth quarter assistant coach Dajuan Alexander told his troops they’d play diamond defense the rest of the way. And it worked. Salesian looked rattled. With little more than three minutes left in the game, Kennedy cut the lead to 10 points.
“I’m not going to lie to you, I thought we were going to win in those last two minutes,” Lady Eagles head coach Rae Jackson told his players after the game. “Y’all battled back, and earned war ribbons for your effort.”
As the players sat shell-shocked over the end of their league season, assistant coach Dajuan Alexander echoed that theme.
“Y’all left it out there,” Alexander said. “When you leave it out there you get to keep your head up. Stick your chest out and be proud of what you did. We gave it all we got, and that’s all we could do every time we get out there.”
Even with the loss, the Lady Eagles qualified for the North Coast Section Division 3 tournament next week. The game and time have yet to be determined.