They all teetered on the edge of tears as they spoke, their words echoing off the walls of a silent South Medford High School.
South Medford's Lauren Orndoff, Hannah Washington and Jonnay Foote stood at center court with their families, who came out to celebrate the three seniors before their game on Friday night.
Nearby was Panthers head coach Tom Cole, whose voice at times shook with emotion when it was his turn to speak into the microphone on senior night.
Fittingly, his acknowledgment ended something like this: Now, after all that, we've got a game to play.
Indeed they did.
The eighth-ranked Panthers edged No. 9 Sheldon, 64-59, in a thrilling showdown featuring the Southwest Conference's top two teams.
The Irish put South in a rare position: a late-game deficit.
But the Panthers responded.
Sophomore Ula Chamberlin's bucket with 1 minute, 47 seconds left put South (17-5, 10-0 SWC) ahead for good and marked the start of a decisive 10-0 run. A 3-pointer by Fallon Hanson had given Sheldon (16-6, 8-2) a 57-54 advantage with 2:50 to go.
"It's what we knew it was going to be," Cole said. "We were on our heels."
Chamberlin finished with 22 points, six assists, five rebounds and four steals, Orndoff had 19 points, four assists and three rebounds and Washington submitted this remarkable effort: 14 points, 24 rebounds (18 defensive), five blocks and four steals.
The Panthers have won 13 straight and 88 consecutive league contests, and the most recent league triumph was a real nail-biter for the South faithful.
The game Friday was tied at 18 after the first quarter and the Panthers led, 32-24, at halftime.
Chamberlin, who had 13 points at intermission, knocked down a 3 in the third to put South ahead, 42-30, before the Irish fought back in it. Hanson banked in a triple from just past the half-court line to trim Sheldon's deficit to four heading into the final eight minutes.
After both teams traded a few buckets, Hanson converted the 3 that gave her squad the three-point edge with 2:50 left.
South then went on its crucial run. Washington scored on a rebound, Chamberlin scooped in a bucket and then the Irish turned the ball over. From there, the Panthers went 6-for-7 at the free-throw line as Sheldon was forced to foul, and Chamberlin was 4-for-4 at the charity stripe during that stretch.
"Those are always critical points in the game, especially when it's close like that," Chamberlin said. "You never know the outcome. They could come back, we could turn the ball over, so making those helped us get this W for sure."
Alyssa Mirabile scored 19 points against South, which won its first meeting with the Irish, 64-52, on Jan. 13.
The crowd, which included children from Cole's Kids Unlimited, roared with approval afterward. Orndoff, who was once a grade-school ballgirl for the Panthers, and her teammates signed autographs and posed for photographs with fans in their conference home finale.
It was a misty-eyed evening with a happy finish for the home team.
"I knew what to expect and was always so excited to play in this," Orndoff said. "I've known Tom for so long and he's been such a big part of my life. It's definitely emotional because (Washington and Foote) are two of my best friends."
It was only fitting, Cole said, that his seniors played a vital role in the victory.
"It's the last official conference home game of the year with these three amazing young women who are incredible," Cole said. "It's this emotional roller coaster because you realize this is the last time you are doing that with them in a conference game in the place where these kids grew up. But true to their character, they showed who they were tonight."
SHELDON (59): Mirabile 19, Walk 4, Hanson 11, Scurlock 3, Reinen 13, Green-Brooks 6, Neuman 0, Winkler 3. Totals: 24 5-9 59.
SOUTH MEDFORD (64): Chamberlin 22, O'Brien-Long 0, Pedrojetti 3, Orndoff 19, Foote 6, Washington 14. Totals: 24 12-14 64.
3-point goals — Sheldon 6 (Mirabile 2, Hanson 3, Reinen 1), South Medford 4 (Chamberlin 3, Pedrojetti 1). Fouled out — Reinen.
JV result — Sheldon won.
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him online at twitter.com/danjonesmt