Wednesday's loss to William Blount was certainly not the way the Lady Panthers hoped to end the season.
With a two-point lead entering the fourth quarter, the team was eight minutes from its first region tournament appearance since joining the AAA classification.
Lenoir City could not find an answer on the offensive end, shooting just 25.6 percent from the field and only 16.7 percent from beyond the arc. The Lady Panthers took 18 three-pointers.
Only senior Kara Steil managed to scored in double digits, hitting four of five shots for 10 points. Fellow senior Teela Thomas scored six, all at the free throw line, and pulled down 12 rebounds. Junior Katie Smartt added eight points.
Despite the loss, Lenoir City was still able to take great strides in its first season under Josh Epperson, finishing with a record of 18-12, far and away the best finish since moving up in classification in 2005. The previous best mark was a 14-13 record in the 2010-2011 season.
"These kids are great kids," Epperson said. "They've given everything they had this year. They've done a good job of coming in and setting a lot of standards, doing a lot of things to get us going in the right direction."
The team will lose four seniors, starters Steil and Thomas and bench players Allison Latham and Sawyer Lee. The four will leave Lenoir City without having played under the same coach in consecutive seasons at any point in their high school career.
"It's tough to lose the way we did tonight, especially after all the hard work they put in and all the progress they have made," Epperson said. "But the girls have made a lot of steps in the right direction that we can hang our hats on."
There is upside for the Lady Panthers. Three juniors with starting experience under their belts - Smartt, Lindsey Jones and Angel Varner - return, along with sophomore starter Haley Morris, who earned All-District honors.
Another sophomore, forward Cailin Hurley, who led the team in scoring and rebounding in a round one win over West, will be the likely replacement for Thomas, while three freshman who made the varsity roster — Maegan Hudson, Amberlee Zeller and Ashlyn Zeller — help to provide a young core for Epperson's second season.