On March 15, Youngstown State University junior guard Liz Hornberger sat in a hotel room with her head hung low, trying hard not to let her tears run as she ran through that night’s game in her head.
YSU lost by 27 points to Loyola University Chicago, falling two games short of the Horizon League Championship. The Penguins got another chance in the WNIT to win a championship but fell to the University of Toledo, 61-43, on Saturday in the second round.
Hornberger said YSU (23-10) tried its hardest, redeemed itself from eight days ago, and this time, she couldn’t hold back those tears.
“I’m so proud of my team; I couldn’t ask for more,” she said. “I mean winning a championship was our goal, but, I don’t know. I’m just really proud, and I’m going to miss Brandi [Brown] so much. A lot of people in the locker room were saying we played hard, we showed up, [and] we overachieved what everyone else thought of us. I’m not happy that we lost, but we lost to a team that deserved it.”
Head coach Bob Boldon was also pleased and said the postgame message to his team was simple.
“It’s a lot of personal stuff, but the general idea was that we were very proud of them,” he said. “The other message is that we have 13 players coming back. They’re talented. This is something that’s got to drive you to get back to this level of playing in postseason games, not just a postseason game.”
One of the 13 players who will return next year is freshman guard Shar’Rae Davis. She scored seven points and fouled out of the game early in the second half, but she earned every minute.
Davis was sick and puked in a trash can every time she exited the game. Boldon said it was not his decision to start her.
“I couldn’t get Shar’Rae out of the game,” Boldon said. “There’s no chance of taking Shar’Rae out of the game. She’s a kid that lives for basketball games. She was going to compete no matter what.”
While Davis will return, Brown will not. She finished with a team-high 10 points and collected four rebounds. Brown fouled out with 4:58 remaining in the game, officially ending her YSU career.
“She’s a tremendous individual,” Boldon said. “She’ll go down as one of the best basketball players to ever play at YSU, and to the people that know her, she’ll go down as one of the best persons at YSU.”
The Penguins shot 25 percent from the field against the Rockets (29-3), who are the MAC regular-season champions. What made Toledo tough was its defense, drawing at least five charges and holding YSU to 10 points in the paint.
Though the season has ended, the team is proud of the way it ended by not giving up, something lost against Loyola on March 15.
“The effort today was night and day. I’m most thankful for that,” Boldon said.