WALES — The coaches, players and partners on the Oak Hill unified basketball team weren’t about to say that Tuesday night’s defeat, the first of the year and one that picked the South regional championship to occur, did anything to stain what had been a season to remember.

There’s no question it hurt, however. Oak Hill’s undefeated season came to a halt one game shy of a state championship, as the Raiders fell to Lisbon, 39-31, on their home court at Oak Hill High School.

“Lot of pride. I couldn’t be happier, I have so much pride for these kids,” Oak Hill co-coach Peter Dennis said. “And they handled themselves very well.”

Then came the caveat, and one that might cause the loss to linger in the minds for a while.

“We just couldn’t buy a basket,” he said.

Devon Fournier scored 10 points to lead Oak Hill (8-1) and Lee Mower had nine, but indeed, the shooting touch failed the Raiders when it mattered most. Oak Hill and Lisbon (9-2) battled through a dead-even first half, one that saw neither team score more than two consecutive baskets and the Greyhounds go into the locker room with a 19-18 lead.

In the second half, however, Lisbon’s shots began to find twine. An 8-0 run shortly after the break put Lisbon up 27-20, and Oak Hill couldn’t inch within four points the rest of the way.

“We had the follow-throughs, we had as many rebounds as we could get,” co-coach Ron Caswell said. “But it really came down to getting the ball in the basket. And sometimes you’re on, then sometimes it’s tonight.”

It was the first case of things not going Oak Hill’s way all season. Winless two seasons ago, Oak Hill rode a senior-laden roster to the South region’s top seed, leaning on a chemistry that Caswell said he hadn’t seen before.

“The team we had two years ago, it might have been a lot of the same people but it was a totally different team,” he said. “The chemistry has clicked in a way that I don’t think a lot of teams have seen. They genuinely call themselves a family.”

It looked like that season would add another game to its life with the Raiders in striking distance after the first half. The game was physical, with players from both teams going to the ground for rebounds or diving into the stands to pursue loose balls, but both the Raiders and Greyhounds had answers when the other appeared ready to take command on the scoreboard.

“People don’t understand, Oak Hill and Lisbon is a big rivalry,” Mower said regarding the physicality. “It’s a tough sport to play. Between Oak Hill and Lisbon, it’s no (holding back). These are the best two schools in the conference.”

“A few times it looked like it was going to get heated a little bit, but everybody kept their composure,” senior partner Tim Riendeau said. “It was a rough game, but everyone played their hearts out.”

Oak Hill got the first basket of the second half, but Lisbon, seeking a return to the state championship game, made its move. Jake Patenaude (team-high 15 points) hit a 3-pointer, then followed up a Dawson Martel lay-in with another three to give Lisbon a cushion out of seemingly nowhere.

“It caught us off-guard and on our heels,” Dennis said. “We got caught cheating a little bit as far as help side, and left some people open.”

Oak Hill fought back, narrowing the gap to 27-23 on a free throw, steal and score from Mower, but six unanswered points put Lisbon ahead 33-23 with 9:56 to go.

“I never felt like we were ever out of the game, I just did a lot of praying that some of our shots would start going in,” Dennis said. “That just didn’t happen for us.”

It never did, but neither coaches nor players took their sights off of the broader perspective, even if the shorter-term one was, for the first time, disappointing.

“Despite losing today, it was a great season,” Riendeau said. “We never gave up, no matter what game it was. Even today, we showed that no matter what, we’re going to stick together.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM