Down 10-0, Veterans didn't panic or abandon the game plan.
A result was a 7-4 run that pulled the Warhawks within seven with nearly two minutes left in the first quarter, Veterans seeming to have gotten going.
But then the Warhawks missed three shots and two free throws the rest of the way while the Panthers went scoreless for the final 2:07.
And so went the rest of the night for Veterans in losing 56-38 to Americus-Sumter in the GHSA Class AAAA girls championship game Thursday at the Macon Coliseum.
Had the Warhawks had even an average night in any one of several areas -- field goal shooting, 3-point shooting, free throws, turnovers or second-chance points -- fans likely would have seen a competitive game not decided until the fourth quarter.
But Veterans shot 21.4 percent overall (to 53.5 percent for Americus-Sumter), 6.7 percent on 3-pointers, 43.3 percent at the line (to 58.3 percent for the Panthers), had actually two fewer turnovers (23) than Americus-Sumter but had only eight second-chance points on 25 offensive rebounds.
"I told them in the pregame, 'Just make the easy ones,' " Veterans head coach Nicki Miranda said. "They knew what I meant, layups and free throws. I felt like if we could have done that in the first half, (could have) kind of kept it close."
Veterans had a shooting session after practice on Wednesday at Fort Valley State to get an arena feel again, but it didn't work, and the Warhawks missed from near and far a night later.
Americus-Sumter, boosted by a crowd advantage, could never completely shut the door on Veterans, adding to the Warhawks' frustration.
They opened the second quarter with five straight empty possessions after a scoop shot by Americus-Sumter standout A'tyanna Gaulden 17 seconds made it a nine-point game.
Americus-Sumter upped the lead to 19 and was on the verge of blowing Veterans out, but it came up empty the final 1:22 and the margin was 15 at halftime.
But the story seemed set: Veterans was having a nightmarish night from the floor. Nobody would have expected that Audrey Nicholson's 3-pointer with 1:48 left in the first would be Veterans' lone 3-pointer of the night.
"We weathered the storm defensively," Miranda said. "But we needed to be up there in the 20s in points."
That door was certainly open in the third quarter, when Americus-Sumter (31-1) went 3:37 between two Gaulden free throws and an Amber Hicks layup. But in that span, the Warhawks began a horrific stretch that included two missed free throws, two missed shots and nine turnovers, including seven straight, in 4:08.
After Janna Aultman made one free throw, the margin was 22, which was the difference after three quarters.
Still, Veterans (27-5) kept running its offense and getting fairly normal shots and missing them. The Warhawks got it under 20 for good with 5:12 left in the game, but the continued inability to match points on consecutive trips and stops on consecutive trips prevented any miracle comeback from starting.
"I just kept thinking, 'If we can get anything to come together, we could do it,'" Miranda said. "It never came to fruition. Offensively, we just struggled mightily."
An overlooked positive was some experience for younger players, and next year's Veterans roster will be loaded with those.
Starting guard Carrington Kee returns, as does forward Audrey Nicholson and wing Alleyah Ingraham. Sophomore Chandler Shepherd and freshman center Alasha Heard got on the floor for the championship game, with Chandler getting a bucket and a steal in two minutes.
Veterans' junior varsity has lost only three games the past two seasons, but it will still be a young Warhawks group next season that won't have a point guard like Kya Cochran to run things.
An 18-point loss is a 18-point loss, but Miranda was impressed with how the Warhawks stayed in the game plan and stayed together.
"It was constantly upbeat and encouraging," she said. "I'm proud they never stopped. They never stopped fighting. They never stopped playing hard. They never quit.
"They really represented Veterans High School and the community very well."