NORTH AUGUSTA --- After losing in the finals of the Boo Williams Tournament in Virginia earlier this year, the Tennessee Flight were handed a consolation prize they wanted no part of.
The team reluctantly accepted a basketball acknowledging it as the runner-up after falling to hosts and top rival Boo Williams. They players have used it as motivation ever since.
The Flight didn't lose another game all summer, culminating with a Gold Division championship at the Nike Nationals after a 65-62 win over DFW Elite at Riverview Park Activities Center on Saturday.
"They've had to carry that thing ever since they got it," Flight coach Tom Isnell said. "We're about to throw it in the trash."
The ball followed the team when it went on the road, out to eat and even to bed. During games, one player was in charge of holding the ball at all times, and that player would hand it off if she was substituted into the game.
It stood as a constant reminder of Insell's desire for his team to be perfect.
"It's been a lot of motivation for us," said Flight's Kaleena Lewis. "We've taken that ball everywhere. If we ever forgot it, we had to go back and get it. I'm hoping we get to stab that thing."
Lewis, the second-ranked high school player in the nation, led all scorers with 23 points. The 6-foot-1 guard has committed to play at Connecticut, winners of back-to-back NCAA Division I titles.
DFW Elite, based in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, gave the Flight a scare in the second half. After trailing for most of the first half, DFW rallied to close the halftime margin to 29-28.
The lead changed hands eight times after intermission, and DFW's Amber Orrange had a chance to send the game into overtime with a 3 at the buzzer but came up just short.
Rebecca Greenwell had 11 points and Danielle McCray added 10 for the Flight.
Krystal Barrett led DFW with 17 points.
It was the second time in three years the Tennessee Flight have won the Nike Nationals title.
"These kids have donated their time to my program. I'm happy for them more than anything," Isnell said.
As for the ball, Isnell later admitted that his team might not actually stab or throw it away. Instead, they likely will just sign it and mail it back to Boo Williams.
In earlier action, All-Ohio, led by Kavunna Edwards' 15 points, won the Silver Division with a 54-49 victory over Ring City.
The New York Gauchos won the 15-and-under division, knocking off Boo Williams 66-61. Denaiyah Grant had 18 points for New York.