Madie Becker and the rest of the Orioles came out of the locker room to a standing cheer from their student section, and the tears began flooding down her face.
It has been a long time coming for Augusta's girls basketball team. The Orioles, seeded No. 8 in the Mulvane sub-state tournament after getting just four wins all season, got the most emotional win of their lives.
With the game against Wellington - a team that already had beaten Augusta twice this year - tied 26-26 in the waning seconds, Casady Marlnee took the Orioles' hopes for a win down the lane on an aggressive drive. Marlnee blew by a defender, pulled up for a baby jumper, almost a layup, and kissed it off the glass as the ball bounced around the rim and through the net.
The Orioles had to wait half a second more as Wellington's desperation shot missed, then burst into celebration with a big group hug as Augusta defeated the Crusaders 28-26 Friday night.
"I'm on cloud 9 right now," Becker said, still shaking with excitement. "It's indescribable. Just the fact that they thought we couldn't do it. And we proved them wrong. It just shows that we worked so hard and it's finally paying off."
With the win, the team advanced to the sub-state championship game, a place that seemed unlikely for the Orioles and where the program hasn't been in a long time. Even for coach Tracy Anderson, in her first year with the team, she felt the weight of the win was more emotional than any game she's been through.
"I've never been emotional after a game, even as a player and as a coach," Anderson said. "I was really emotional because I was just so happy for them. So happy. It shows that they have perseverance."
Augusta will play Clearwater at 6 p.m. Saturday in Mulvane with a trip to the state tournament on the line.
The final play actually wasn't even designed for Marlnee originally. But no one else got open, so Marlnee decided to watch the clock and wait for the right moment before taking her chance. She said she wasn't sure if the ball was going in after it left her hand. She even hinted that it wasn't a miracle shot and that she would've been disappointed if had missed that close of a shot.
"It was a routine shot," Marlnee said. "I shoot off the dribble. That's my best shot. I was hoping for a clearout. But [coach] said no shots unless it was under 10 seconds."
Marlnee made the heroic play in a game that needed heroic performances. Marlnee hit a 3-pointer and finished with a team-high 10 points in a defensive battle that was physically draining for both teams.
"She made a great read," Anderson said of Marlnee's game winner. "The last time we played them, she had settled for a lot of outside shots, and she had not done well. I told her I needed her to be aggressive, and that's what she did."
Anderson felt that senior Kalie Robinson was the game MVP for her effort on defense. Marlnee agreed that it wasn't her shot, but the team's defensive effort, that truly won the game. Robinson said her sole goal of the night was to stop Wellington's standout shooter, Kailey Jenkins, who had crushed the Orioles from the 3-point line in the previous two meetings.
"I didn't think about shooting or anything else that much. I had to play hard on [defense], give it my all," Robinson said about covering Jenkins.
Taylor Childers worked hard on both ends of the court. She didn't shy away from contact and drew hard fouls all night. She made 7 of 9 free throws and finished with nine points and several rebounds. Becker and Hope Travaille also dove on the ground for rebounds and helped patrol the paint. Even though the Orioles had 19 turnovers, their hustle for offensive rebounds and ability to get to the free throw line were enough to stay on course.
"We're going to win ugly, and I'm perfectly fine with that," Anderson said.
Wellington's defense wasn't exactly forgiving, either. Augusta went more than 9 minutes in the second half without one field goal before Marlnee's winning shot.
"That tops the most exciting moment," Robinson said. "...When I looked at the scoreboard, it hit me and I started balling my eyes out. Casady, I'm so proud of her."