By CLINT FOSTER
ABILENE – It wasn't the way a community pictured their season ending.
Fresh off of a thrilling 69-65, double-overtime victory over Ira in the regional semifinals, the Graford Jackrabbits' (27-4) bid for their first trip to the state tournament since 2012 fell short Saturday afternoon with a 58-25 loss at the hands of the Water Valley Wildcats (27-5) in the Class 1A-Division II Regional Finals at Abilene Christian University's Moody Coliseum.
The Wildcats will head back to Austin for the second-straight year, while Graford is left to pick up the pieces and look to next season.
The Jackrabbits sprinted through the first three rounds of the playoffs, earning a bye in the first round and winning their subsequent games by an average of almost 30 points. Then came the test against Ira on Friday night.
The double-overtime battle that Graford head coach Ty Tabor likened to a heavyweight boxing match brought the 'Rabbits back down to earth, but also exhausted them. This was cause enough for concern for Tabor and when the sun rose the next day for Graford's afternoon matchup with Water Valley, Tabor's worst fears were confirmed.
The 'Rabbit offense was simply stymied by the Wildcats' fullcourt press. A Graford team accustomed to taking close to 60 shots per game was only 8-of-33 from the field, resulting in their lowest point total of the season.
"We looked flat emotionally and dead-legged in finals," Tabor said. "I would contribute that to the double-overtime game the night before. If we played them in a different situation, it could be a lot better game.
"(But) Water Valley is really talented. Realistically they're one of the top two or three teams in the state. They made us look slow."