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Day two pits Washington against Lansing, a team that went 17-4 before arriving in Topeka. The Wildcats look loose. During the player introductions, Michael Hibler gives Jervon Hooks a mock airport-security pat-down.
Washington trails by three at halftime and falls further behind in the third quarter. At one point, Myles Hibler misses a wide-open layup. Along press row, Nick Sloan, who has followed Washington closely all season, presses his fists against his forehead.
In the fourth quarter, Tra'Vaughn White demonstrates the abilities that allowed him to break Watson's career scoring record at Washington. He shoots a jump shot from the baseline that draws Washington into a tie. He steals the ball and completes a pass to Myles Hibler, who puts the Wildcats in the lead, which Lansing never regains.
After the 68-63 win, Washington fans are chanting "Wash House" as King and White meet with reporters behind the scorer's table. King says: "Hear that crowd? That's what I'm talking about. That's what it's all about — for the school."
White finished the game with 34 points, an outpouring of talent and urgency. "Our last game's tomorrow, win or lose," he says.
The final takes place on a Saturday. The Watson charters make their third trip from KCK to Topeka in three days. Leaving nothing to chance, Green, the band director, sits in with the students, trumpet in hand.
McPherson High School, the No. 1 seed, awaits. A public school in central Kansas, McPherson has won 10 state championships. Its side of the arena is at least three times as full as Washington's when the ball is tipped.
The size and skill of the McPherson players look like nothing Washington has seen the previous two days. McPherson pushes the ball on offense. Washington struggles to find a rhythm. Three starters get into foul trouble, forcing King to go to his bench. The first half ends with McPherson leading by nine, a hole that stays dug. Final score: McPherson 79, Washington 68.
The locker-room door stays closed for several minutes after Washington has received its runner-up medals. Alex Chapman, an assistant coach on the girls' team, finally emerges. "It's depressed in there, man." The players finally come out, their cheeks stained by tears.
King is the last to walk out. His remarks are typical of a coach on the losing side: Salute the victor but let it be known that officiating distorted the picture. "We couldn't get going," he says. "Everything we do is a foul or under the microscope. And they're walking and everything, but it's a good play. It kind of took us out of the game."
Down the tunnel, the parents and school staff cheer when Rakim McCoy passes through the security doors, unsmiling but holding the second-place trophy above his head. Caprice Jappa stops Michael Hibler and whispers a wish for another set of Hibler twins with four years of eligibility. Jerome Hooks, Jervon's dad, seeks out the juniors and sophomores. "I expect to be right here again next year," he tells them.
The appearance of coach King elicits an ovation. "Our hero!" the Hibler twins' father announces.
While Washington's dream was ending, the team Tra'Vaughn White claims to hate was winning a couple of hours down Interstate 70, finishing up the 4A final in Salina. Sumner overcame an awful start — down 16-2 early in the game — and beat Ottawa, 66-60, for a second-straight state title.
The following afternoon, White isn't thinking about the upcoming week of spring break or the junior-college coaches who waited outside the Expocentre locker rooms to talk to him. Instead, he's killing himself over the fact that KCK hadn't crowned two champions. He updates his Twitter account: "Heart never hurt this much in my life."