ALEXANDRIA — For the second straight season, McKinley had to watch as John Curtis hoisted the Division I state championship trophy at midcourt.
This one, perhaps stung just a little bit more.
The Panthers, after all, put the only blemish on the Patriots' record this season with a one-point win in December.
But in the one that mattered the most, McKinley fell 62-49 in the title game of the LHSAA girls tournament at Rapides Coliseum.
"It's tough," McKinley junior Alexius Horne said. "We know we are the better team. It's hard to lose to a team that we should beat."
McKinley, which was seeking its first state championship, finished 30-4.
The No. 2 Panthers seemed like they would end that title drought early on when they scored the first six points and sprinted out to a 13-5 lead.
But No. 1 Curtis responded on an 11-0 run to get right back in it. The run started in the first quarter and spilled over into the second. It included a desperation heave by Curtis guard Salma Bates at the end othe quarter that cut McKinley's lead to 13-12.
But it was in the end of the second quarter when the game slowly started to get away from the Panthers.
McKinley trailed 24-20 and picked up a foul, followed by a technical foul. Then came an "administrative technical foul" because of a wrong jersey number listed in the official scorer's book.
Curtis (30-1) made five of the six free throws, then made another one to end the half with a 30-20 lead.
"That was a big turn in the game," McKinley coach Krystal Huggins-Flowers said.
But Huggins-Flowers said the biggest problem was turnovers.
"We started off the game great but after that, we didn't take care of the ball," Huggins-Flowers said. "We finished the first half with 18 turnovers. Eighteen against a team like John Curtis is hard to bounce back from. And then the offensive and defensive rebounds, they pretty much beat us on the boards and just outhustled us."
McKinley finished with 24 turnovers, unable to duplicate their 44-43 win from three months ago.
The difference in that first game and this one?
"Energy," Huggins Flowers said. "The hustle. We were hungry today. They were hungry as well. We were their only loss this season. We punched them in the face, but then we let up."
Horne led McKinley with 18 points and five rebounds before fouling out late. Junior Caira Wren recorded a double- double, finishing with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Jamia Scholfielf and Erica Lafayette scored eight points each.
"We started off really good, but we kind of let up," said Wren. "They started outhustling us."
The Panthers got as close as seven points in the third quarter, but that was as close as they could get.
"We came out a little sluggish," Curtis coach Barbara Farris said. "They blitzed us. We had to withstand the run and outlast them for four quarters. That was really the game plan. We wanted to force some turnovers and get some easy baskets."
Sophomore Jerkaila Jordan led Curtis with 21 points and five steals and took home Most Outstanding Player honors for a second consecutive year after the Patriots won it all in Hammond last season.
Curtis senior Dynah Jones, a Tulane signee, finished with two points, but teammates Abryhia Irons (10 points) and Bates (14 points) picked up the slack to lead the Patriots to their fifth state title.
McKinley plans to be in the title game again with the hopes of bringing that elusive title back to Baton Rouge.
"We are not going away," Huggins-Flowers said. "These girls have another year, and we plan to be here next year. We are going to work hard and get back to the drawing board."