The Mountain Pointe and Desert Vista boys basketball teams took far different journeys, but ended in the same place.
Both programs bowed out at the Class 5A Division I state quarterfinals Saturday despite having the lead in the fourth quarter.
Seventh-seeded Mountain Pointe led 50-45 with about 4 minutes and 30 seconds left against No. 2 Mesa but couldn't hold on as former teammate Jahii Carson took over the game and led the Jackrabbits to a 72-66 win.
A bit farther away, near the Mexico border, No. 9 Desert Vista led 68-66 on senior Khamari Broom's 3-pointer, but No. 1 Sierra Vista Buena scored the next two baskets and never relinquished the lead again in a 74-73 contest.
They both were a few baskets or turnovers away from making the Final Four, but it wasn't to be. As the disappointment begins to dissipate, it becomes very clear that each program had great seasons and did it different ways.
Mountain Pointe (22-6) was loaded with seniors - 11 on the roster - making a final push. It makes the loss sting that much more, knowing the core of the team played its last game.
"We've been through thick and thin," senior forward Izzy Marshall said. "We have grown together and put together back-to-back great seasons. As a competitor you always want more, thinking a play or two might have made the difference, but really we played a good game. It just wasn't meant to be."
Pride coach Brian Fleming has brought the program along well, despite losing Carson, who is considered the state's best player and signed with Arizona State University. When he came over from Tempe McClintock four seasons ago the program wasn't competitive.
And this group of seniors walk away knowing the program is in a good spot after back-to-back 20-win seasons.
"The journey for these guys has been amazing," Fleming said. "We were 3-23 three years ago (when the seniors group were freshmen), and we went 44-14 the last two years. Yes, we led by five in the fourth quarter but it doesn't take away from how far this group has come."
Fleming said what he will remember most is the development and maturity of the team.
"It has been special watching them grow," he said. "They were just kids, and now they are close to graduating. There are senior classes each year, but this is one that will really stick with me."
Especially when he starts forecasting a roster for next year and there are only two juniors, a sophomore and two freshmen left.
Sophomore guard Khari Holloway has been a starter all season and freshman Jalen Brown was one of the first off the bench and was probably the team's best defender.
"They played important minutes in the state playoffs and that's only going to make them better," Fleming said. "It's huge in their development and hopefully this loss leaves them wanting more."
Desert Vista's elimination from the postseason was tough, but considering the previous two seasons it is hard to complain.
The Thunder went 19-32 the last two seasons after winning the state championship in the 2007-08 season. It was a dramatic drop, but first-year coach Dave Williams seems to have restored the level of play in the Storm Center.
Desert Vista went 21-10 while playing in the East Valley Region, one of the toughest around, and fared well.
"As an outsider when I took the job it seemed like any other schedule," Williams said before the Buena game. "But it builds such a thick skin. You've seen it all playing against Mesa, Hamilton and everyone else in our region."
The season's success bodes well for the future as the team didn't rely much on its senior class of five players, but the junior class, led by Danny Powell, Steve Klein and Jeff Lowery, will make the Thunder one of the early season favorites next season.
The team feels like it let one slip away against Buena, but at the same time players are excited about the progress made in one year.
"Discipline was a factor, but they played hard," Williams said. "We were one game away from the Final Four. That was OK, but I am not happy with that."
Desert Vista will bring back seven juniors, three sophomores and a freshman from this year's roster.
"I can't wait to get my hands on them again," Williams said.