PEORIA – Eastland coach Tony Dunlap's opening statement after Friday's one-point 1A semifinal loss was succinct.
"Losing isn't fun," Dunlap told reporters in the media interview room. "Any questions?"
On Saturday, Dunlap had more to say after Lady Luck once again shined her face upon an Eastland opponent during the third-place game against Nokomis at Carver Arena in the Peoria Civic Center.
This time it was Nokomis' Evan Huber hitting a pull-up jumper with 2 seconds left – his only field goal of the game – to put the Redskins up 44-42. A 60-foot heave by Dalton Shaner after an Eastland timeout was well off the mark, and the Cougars finished fourth for the second time in 4 years.
The day before, it was 46-percent free-throw shooter Deontay Starnes sealing the Cougars' fate in a 51-50 loss by sinking two freebies with 8.3 seconds left.
A mere three points separated the Cougars from a chance at a state title and made all the difference between first and fourth place.
The losses were stunning, and not just because of the late-game heroics. Let coach Dunlap explain something about his group – particularly his seniors that played as freshmen the last time the Cougars took fourth in 2010.
"We were discussing quite a stat about this bunch," Dunlap said. "They've gone 28-6, 27-3, 25-4 and 30-5, and they've only lost two games in a row twice ... and both times happened in this building."
"We wanted to do more than get fourth again," Eastland senior Adam Blair said. "It meant everything for us to get back here. It's what we've been working for the last 4 years. We're not happy with fourth, but we're proud of what we accomplished."
As you see can see, losing just isn't something that Dunlap and Eastland athletes are all that used to.
The fourth-place trophy will have plenty of company in the trophy case at Lanark.
After all, there's the two state championship trophies brought home by the volleyball team (2008, 2009); those clubs had a Blair of their own, in Adam's older sister Courtney. The volleyball team also took fourth in 2004.
The baseball team has a runner-up trophy (2011) and a fourth-place trophy (2009). The softball team took second in 1999.
In all, the school has eight team trophies since 1999, making it one of the most decorated small-school programs in the Sauk Valley.
Some schools might have more trophies, but many of them often have large amounts of success in one or two sports. The Cougars believe in success across the board.
"We talk about representing Eastland athletics a lot," Adam Blair said. "We know there's a tradition of making state, and we wanted to make sure we were a part of it."
Now, the only thing we have left to wonder is when the next trophy will come to Lanark.
Many of these boys will form a fairly potent baseball team; perhaps it will only be a few months when we're talking more state success for Eastland. If not, key players like Dalton Shaner, Skylar Paulson and Marshall Fink return next winter.
Who's knows? Maybe 2013-14 will be the year the boys hoops team wins a game at Carver Arena.
Winning, after all, is fun.
Eastland trophy case
Boys basketball (2013)
Boys basketball (2010)