I really don't know if such a terrible story when it started in November could have had much better of an ending than what happened in Stillwater on Saturday afternoon. The wife of late head coach Kurt Budke, Shelley, provided the final snip of the WNIT nets and the Cowgirls reigned victorious.
OSU was spurred by their 6,157 fans in the stands. Tournament MVP Toni Young poured in 25 points to go with nine assists in the win. Freshman Liz Donohoe rounded out the postseason with yet another double-double of 14 points and 11 rebounds. Sophomore point guard Tiffany Bias also posted a stellar double-double performance of 17 points and 11 assists along with five steals. Lindsey Keller rounded out the double figure scoring with a 10-point outing in the 75-68 win over James Madison.
The Cowgirls have been silent on the tragedy since it happened, but after the game, players and coaches provided comments on the season and on the Budke family. Here are some of coach Jim Littell's sentiments after the game (all quotes via Oklahoma State media relations):
I'll be honest with you. Coach Budke, Coach Serna, the Branstetters, my dad have been on my mind a lot. As I said out there, our group decided in November that we were going to pay honor, and I don't think that there's anyquestion that these ladies paid honor and did things right."
On watching Shelley Budke cut down the nets
"We wouldn't have had it any other way. She's been a rock for us, the way she's come to the games, supported the Cowgirls, and been there for these kids, and been there for the coaches. I commend her for that. I don't know how she's done it sometimes, the way she's done it. I've known her for a long time. She played for me and (she is) just a special lady and we love her to death."
On playing this season after the tragedy
"It was hard, but the kids wanted to represent and do the right thing. It would have been awfully easy for this team to just say 'We'll just start next year' or 'We've had a rough year, and things have gone wrong, and we'll just start next year,' but they didn't do that. It tells a great deal about the character of the two people beside me (Tiffany Bias and Toni Young) and our whole locker room."
After the semifinal game against San Diego, I asked Tiffany Bias what she wanted the legacy of this team to be separate of the story of tragedy of triumph.
"I think we play for a bigger reason than ourselves," Bias said. "We play for the name on our jersey and we play for a lot of people in the stands and just everyone – our friends and family. I think it's bigger than just us, it's our whole community that surrounds us.
"We just want to show that we have character and we have passion for this game. We went through a struggle but we defeated it and we're still going and going strong. Basically just that we're strong and passionate about what we do."
Character was also on the mind of Littell immediately after beating San Diego.
"It would mean a lot to us. It would be something that we can be very proud of and just show the character of these kids and what they're made of," Littell said of the potential of winning a WNIT championship. "And that ain't going to change win or lose. The character of this group and how they've been all year long - I'm just blessed to be coaching them."
Character was indeed shown to it's fullest on Saturday. A character of perseverance, a character of strength and resilience, a character of immense quality in the shadows of darkness.