Lakeside High School basketball's returning seniors remember well how last season ended for the Panthers.
The memory isn't pleasant.
Coach Ryan Morningstar's team won two overtime games during the final week of the regular season and thought it had done enough to earn a Region 3-AAAA playoff berth.
"Everybody was so hyped," Panthers forward Cody Marsh said of the team's win in its final game at Evans. "The fans came out of the stands and celebrated a little bit. We all thought we were in.
"We found out it came down to a coin toss."
The coin was flipped as a tiebreaker the same night, and the Panthers were left out.
Morningstar has tried to keep his players' focus on the way they finished on the court, not what happened off of it. The Panthers started 0-4 last season before a late push left them with a 12-12 record in Morningstar's second season.
It was an improvement from his first as varsity coach, when the Panthers won four games in 2006-07. But the Panthers are ready for another step up -- a playoff berth.
"We don't want to sit and wait on somebody to get beat," guard C.J. Marshall said. "We want to already be in the playoffs. We don't want to wait on nobody to lose."
Lakeside has kept almost the same nucleus for four years, including Morningstar, who coached the Panthers' junior varsity squad before taking over as varsity coach.
Morningstar teaches at Lewiston Elementary, but his players say he is accessible whenever they need him, and that his phone number is in all of their phones. The Panthers say Morningstar is not afraid to let them try something new and that he gives them say in what plays are run.
"He asks for our input," Panthers senior Rosbie Mutcherson said. "It's as much our team as it is his."
Marsh and Mutcherson have been playing together since they were freshmen. Marshall came on later, but all three form a tight group as Lakeside's leaders.
The group saw Lakeside endure a winless season when they were eighth-graders and a one-win season when they were freshmen.
"We're just trying to keep building," Mutcherson said. "That's all we can do."
The program's rise has led to a record turnout among students wanting to play for the team. Morningstar, who had many players on the football team, said he expected his roster to be finalized today and that he did not look forward to making cuts.
The numbers left him with some tough decisions, but also spoke to the recent success of the program.
The Panthers will have their hands full this season in a new-look Region 3-AAAA. But players are looking forward to a better ending.
"We don't want it to come down to a coin toss," Marsh said.
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