Photo: Karl L. Moore Gwinnett Heat's Giselle Zavala (50) shakes hands with Muscogee's Kylie LaMee (1) after the Heat's victory at the Wheelchair Basketball Tournament at Duluth High School Saturday.
DULUTH -- A season that exceeded expectations ended one win short of the ultimate prize on Saturday for the Gwinnett Heat.
Coach Len Boudreaux's team fell to Henry County 22-6 in the junior varsity state championship of the State Wheelchair Basketball Tournament at Duluth High School. It was the first time Gwinnett hosted the event, a year after the Heat won the state title.
The Heat, Gwinnett County Public Schools' Adapted Sports program, lost its two best players from last year's team and had a roster of mostly young players, including one fourth-grader. But the team finished 4-4 after it beat Muscogee in the semifinals earlier on Saturday.
"They really came together from the start of practice, when the kids couldn't dribble the ball, didn't know any rules, anything called a scrimmage, 5-on-5," Boudreaux said. "Yeah, they've come a long way."
Henry County coach Chris Vernon said his team was overmatched in the first quarter when it was outscored 6-2.
"They had some different players than the last time we played them," Vernon said. "That first period I was like, 'Uh oh.' Pretty much that first minute in, I was like, 'They've got us this period.'"
But the Hurricanes countered with 20 unanswered points the rest of the way for the victory.
Gwinnett's scorers were freshman Kendrell King, who had four points, and senior Keitra Douglas, who had two.
Boudreaux said many of his players hadn't played wheelchair basketball before the season started.
"We're very proud of all of our athletes," he said. "We have a lot of young players on our team and to get this far is definitely something to be proud of."
The Heat elects to play on the level that most closely matches its ability, and that's why it played on the JV level this year, Boudreaux said. His players were a pleasure to work with throughout the season, and gave everything they had on Saturday, he said.
"They're true athletes and true sportsmen," the coach said.
Vernon said the undefeated season for Henry County has helped with recognition around their community and, most importantly, with fundraising.
Both programs begin football season this week, and Vernon said Henry County nearly didn't play football because of a lack of funding.
"It is about winning and losing, but that isn't the whole thing," Boudreaux said. "The whole thing is to give these athletes an opportunity to compete in a competitive sport."