With victory secured and team handshakes completed, Osbourn Park's Sarah Thompson sought out fellow junior Erin Myers.
Thompson met her friend on the way back to the bench and threw one arm around her neck, the two walking in stride, laughing and contemplating their improbable journey this season to the top of the Cedar Run District.
Of the 15 players on Osbourn Park's roster, few understood better than Thompson and Myers how far this team had come with its 60-51 victory over host Osbourn on Friday in a regular season matchup postponed a week by snow.
With the win, the Yellow Jackets clinched first place in the district and gained their first berth into the Northwestern Region tournament as a AAA school. Osbourn Park last reached regionals as a AA school in 1983, two years before it moved up to its current classification.
Also consider recent history: The Yellow Jackets (8-12) lost seven of their first eight games this season, but rebounded to go 5-1 in the Cedar Run.
Thompson and Myers, who both made the team as freshman, were fully aware of the significance of their game against rival Osbourn (5-17, 0-6). While congratulating each other, they shared exasperated feelings of relief, overjoyed that their team's hard work had paid off.
"We're finally here," Thompson said. "It's like, 'Yes!' A bit of relief because we haven't been in position to be in first place. Now that we've gotten there we're like, 'We can do this,' and we know it."
The Yellow Jackets face the Eagles again at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the semifinals of the district tournament at Stonewall Jackson. If Osbourn Park wins, the winner of the nightcap between Potomac and Stonewall will claim the district's second region spot.
Myers, who scored a game-high 23 points and sparked her team to a 36-25 halftime lead, said she sensed something special from the energy the team displayed during warmups. The confidence, she said, bolstered her performance, leading to 13 first-half points.
"It took a while for us to realize how good we could be if we learned to play together," Myers said. "Yeah, we make our mistakes, but we don't give up. Our team has a lot of heart, whether you can see it or not."
Myers received scoring help from senior Kat Rippe (13 points) and junior Kirsten McKevitt (eight points). Thompson, who averages 10 points a game and plays all five positions, struggled with her shooting, but asserted herself as the team's primary ballhandler.
That was an important role as the Eagles used an extended 2-3 zone to pressure the ball and try to create turnovers. The strategy worked late in the second half, and the Eagles pulled to within three with two minutes remaining.
A powerful drive-and-dish play by Thompson, however, led to a McKevitt basket that the Yellow Jackets ahead, 55-50, and provided the cushion they needed down the stretch.
In the late game, the Osbourn boys defeated Osbourn Park, 65-47, behind 14 points from senior Brandon Oglesby and 13 from junior Robert Murray. The teams will face each other again at 7:30 p.m. Monday in the first round of the district tournament, in which Osbourn Park (9-12, 3-3) is seeded second and Osbourn (10-12, 2-4) third. If Potomac defeats Stonewall in the early game, the Osbourn-Osbourn Park winner will earn a region spot.
Potomac wrapped up the district's top seed and a regional berth with a 54-53 overtime win against Stonewall on Friday.