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EUREKA — When the basketball season ended for Eureka High School's girls on Saturday, their post-game press conference dealt more with what they'd done than what they hadn't.

The No. 4-state ranked Hornets hadn't scored in the fourth quarter of a 45-32 loss to No. 6 Teutopolis in the Class 2A state third-place game at Redbird Arena.

However, what their 28-5 season showed youngsters who will one day wear Eureka uniforms is that falling behind needn't faze those keeping the faith.

After come-from-behind wins in the regional and sectional, Coach Jerry Prina told his Hornets, "Every little kid growing up in Eureka now thinks that they can come back."

As legacies go, what could these Hornets leave behind that was better?

They had just won the first girls basketball state trophy in school history. They were the first team to qualify for state in 30 years. They had caused a small town to turn Redbird Arena green.

"At this moment, I'm sad it's over," said senior Natalie Bardwell. "I don't get to play with these girls anymore.

"Some of these girls have been with me since fifth grade, but I'm so proud of the way our team has battled back through adversity all season. Like coach said, 'We all have comebacks in us.'"

Ironically, the Hornets' 1988 counterparts also lost to Teutopolis, a powerhouse that now has 14 state trophies.

The Wooden Shoes finished 29-7 thanks to 15 points from Jolene Bueker, but mostly because of an unexpected 13 points and 10 rebounds from sophomore sub Claire Busher, who came in averaging 2.9 points and 1.6 rebounds.

The final score hides the fact Eureka was within 32-30 entering the final period. What followed were nine missed shots and four turnovers.

"We stopped matching them with buckets to the point of the fourth quarter, we just couldn't get anything to drop," lamented Prina, whose team shot 26.1 percent from the field. "It wasn't a matter of us not trying or not executing. It was just a matter of our shot not being there at the end."

Also absent at the end was Eureka star Tessa Leman, who fouled out with 3:05 left, having notched 10 points and 10 rebounds. With Eureka fans behind her bench, the top-scoring Hornet of all-time, boy or girl, walked into the embrace of a standing ovation. 

"I was very thankful, thankful for all the support I've had throughout all four of my years," said the future West Point cadet. "I'm just thankful for all the opportunities Eureka High School basketball has given me."

Leman gave T-Town fits early, scoring six points as Eureka built a 13-4 lead.

"I think we came out ready," she said. "We wanted to finish the season on a win. Things were clicking. We were making shots. We were playing great defense. Unfortunately, the wheels kind of fell off."

Leman's 18-foot jumper later made it 19-10 in the second quarter, but nine points from Bueker helped the Wooden Shoes make a 13-4 run to tie it at 23 at halftime.

In the second half, Leman went scoreless against Morgan Mette and a box-and-one defense.

"She's our best defender," said Teutopolis coach Laurie Thompson. "She draws the job of the opponents' best player every night. No. 5 (Leman) is a very good player. Morgan did a heck of a job on her. Her teammates helped her as well."

Leman finished 4 of 12 from the field.

"They played great defense and pretty well had me figured out in that second half," Leman said. "I had to go to desperate measures to do anything possible." 

Meanwhile, Teutopolis had the unheralded Busher, the school record holder in the shot put and discus, grabbing five of her team's 14 offensive rebounds.

"Claire is a really good rebounder," Thompson said. "She's strong. Usually when she gets the ball, no one takes it away from her."

Similarly, no one will take away what future Hornets saw during a post-season where anything seemed possible.

Follow Randy Sharer on Twitter: @PG_sharer

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Reporter

Reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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