The ending of Thursday night’s girls basketball Class 2A-Region 1 Quarterfinal at Oak Hall School was difficult for many reasons.
The Eagles’ 55-37 loss to visiting North Florida Educational Institute (Jacksonville) signaled the end of the 2022-23 season.
It was the last game for seniors Kate Pickens, Sydney Miller, and Frannie Perez.
And after 31 seasons as head coach, it marked the final game for Eric Ringdahl.
“It was a great to see a lot of people come out,” Ringdahl said. “It’s been a heck of a ride. We closed off this chapter with a district title. When you’re playing a team like this you’ve got two choices, either you can stand there and keep taking it, and keep giving it, or you can quit. And we didn’t quit.”
There were opportunities to fade early.
NFEI, the No. 2 seed in the region, opened with a 6-0 lead and extended it to double-digits, 13-3, on a 3-pointer by Shadia Lara, who tied teammate Misty Badmus with a team-high 15 points.
But the seventh-seeded Eagles (16-8) began to chip away.
Later in the first quarter, junior Bella Dyrkolbotn converted an and-one to close the gap to 17-12. She finished the quarter with 10 of her game-high 21 points.
“I thought Bella played like a champion tonight,” Ringdahl said. “That was the biggest game she has had, the best game she has ever had.”
Dyrkolbotn and junior Mary Pizzurro hit back-to-back shots to bring Oak Hall within one, 19-18, at the end of the first quarter.
Then just 15 seconds into the second quarter, Pizzurro scored again to give Oak Hall its only lead of the game, 20-19.
However, the host Eagles went cold and the Fighting Eagles (15-8) went on a 17-0 run, taking their largest lead, 36-20, on a bucket by Tajeria Forbes (8 points).
Oak Hall didn’t score again until Dyrkolbotn made two free throws with 3.5 seconds left in the half to make the score 36-22 NFEI at the half.
“I’m happy with how it went,” said Dyrkolbotn, who was playing on a tender right knee. “We kind of knew they were seeded higher than us so there was no pressure. But I think I made a lot more shots than I normally do in a game. I just played my hardest because I knew if we lost that we wouldn’t play again.”
Oak Hall did make another run, closing the gap to 11 on an inside basket by Dyrkolbotn, who scored seven points in the third quarter.
They had an opportunity to get within single digits with 3:26 to play in the third quarter, but Pickens missed a 3-pointer from the top of the key down 41-30.
The senior did end up with 10 points, hitting a shot left of the lane with just eight seconds remaining.
“We’ve always struggled playing against teams that were really physical and this was one of the most physical teams that we’ve played this year,” Pickens said. “They definitely had a height advantage, but we played our best and I’m really proud of the way the season ended.”
It was an emotional end of sorts for Pickens, who began playing for Ringdahl around the age of 5.
“Very sad,” she said. “It’s really emotional that this was our last game but, oh well, it ends eventually.”
And although it ended, the long-time head coach had a smile on his face when he reflected on how his team’s performance.
“Too many turnovers,” Ringdahl said. “But the resolve of this team and how hard they played tonight, they didn’t always play well, but they played hard. At times, we showed we could play with anybody.”
Regional Quarterfinals – Thursday, Feb. 9
Class 6A-Region 1
No. 3 Gainesville 48, No. 6 Niceville 45
Class 3A-Region 1
No. 1 Providence (Jacksonville) 58, No. 8 Bradford (Starke) 46
No. 2 P.K. Yonge 57, No. 7 Trinity Christian (Jacksonville) 27
Class 2A-Region 1
No. 2 North Florida Educational Institute (Jacksonville) 55, No. 7 Oak Hall School 37
Class 1A-Region 3
No. 1 Hawthorne 61, No. 4 Madison County 50
No. 2 Newberry 57, No. 3 Hilliard 45
Class 1A-Region 4
No. 2 Trenton 32, No. 3 Williston 28