---- — As they came out of the locker room at Montoursville High School just minutes after the final buzzer sounded on their 15-point loss to Canton, the Line Mountain players were disappointed and upset to say the least.
For the majority of the squad, it was their first taste of the district playoffs. For the seniors, their last.
The last time the Eagles reached the District 4 tournament was the 2009-10 season, and only three of the starters on this year's team saw time. Cole Rickert, Codi Morris and Billy Breinich combined for just eight points in a first-round win back when they were just freshman.
Those three weren't key contributors on that team. This year, though, it was their team and unfortunately it came to an end Tuesday evening.
The Eagles had a great turnaround, from a dismal 5-16 mark last year to a 13-9 regular season finish.
Standing outside the locker room just off the court, Line Mountain coach Craig Reichard didn't exhibit any emotions as he watched the two teams warming up prior to the tip of the final game of a District 4 playoff tripleheader. Pride and happiness he felt on the inside were more than apparent.
When asked if he was proud of this team, the third-year coach just said "Yeah," nodding his head numerous times as a slight smile started to show.
"Just dedication (this offseason in the gym)," Reichard said about the team's reversal. "The seniors spent a lot of time in the gym this summer. I was very proud about that and they did improve their game. Every one of them."
That gym training that helped the team develop on and off the court.
"It definitely paid off. We spent hours in the gym getting shots up and just coming together as a team and it eventually turned into like we were all a family," senior Breinich said. "Being so connected as a team also helped us clinch a district appearance."
The Eagles won more Tri-Valley League games this season (11) than the past two combined (10), although two new teams resulted in a 16-game league schedule.
Line Mountain was led this season by both Rickert (329 points, 14.9 ppg., 30 three-pointers) and Breinich (297, 14.1, 16). While those two were the offensive keys to the Eagles, it wasn't a team driven by individuals.
"Each and every one of the teammates contributed in their own way of leadership to help everyone get better and improve as a team getting us to the District 4 playoffs," Breinich said.
"There was no single leader; all of them led together. They fed off each other," Reichard added.
Before this season started, the Eagles' goal was to make the District 4 tournament. However, they were 5-7 through early January. Things started clicking with a double-overtime home win over Halifax, 65-59. That sparked a run of eight straight wins, which included a string of five in a row on the road. That span also saw Line Mountain down TVL powerhouse East Juniata, 54-38, on the road, a win made even sweeter as it clinched the Eagles' district berth.
From a 5-7 start to an 8-2 finish with a District 4 berth and a goal realized.
"As a team, I think we all agreed that this was a good run we put together winning eight straight games after starting off 5-7," said Breinich. "All the time we spent in the gym paid off in a good way making this year a very successful season."
Factor in a handful of close losses -- a two-point loss in double-overtime to Upper Dauphin (Dec. 17), a five-point loss to Minersville (Dec. 30) and a two-point loss to East Juniata (Jan. 10) -- and Line Mountain's season could have been even more impressive.
While it sometimes takes awhile for a player to appreciate a season's accomplishments, it took just one day for Breinich and probably other Eagles.
"This year was quite a memorable year. I look back on it a day later and am very proud of how everyone came together as a family and got this program to where it got to," Breinich said Wednesday. "It definitely was a great year to be part of the Line Mountain basketball program and I wish the best of luck to the underclassmen that were a part of this year's successful season."
If the "team first" leadership the Eagles exhibited this season continues, Reichard and the Eagles could very well be back in the District 4 tournament this time next year ready to make more noise.
n Jon Gerardi covers boys basketball for The Daily Item. Email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Jonidial.