Losing a game is always tough.

Seeing the lead slip away in the final minute of play is a little tougher and that was the case for Climax Springs as they fell to visiting Niangua by a final score of 58 to 54 Tuesday night.

The Cougars and Cardinals did not give each other any breathing room throughout the evening with the largest lead being a six point advantage for Niangua. Climax Springs lead by as many as five points with less than three minutes to go before Niangua pounced and recaptured the lead with 1:09 remaining. Climax Springs had a chance to tie it in the final moments trailing 57-54, but a turnover with 8.3 seconds left and a Niangua free throw sealed the contest.

“You need to play in those games whether you win them or lose them to learn how to win them,” Climax Springs coach James Butterfield stated. “We have been in a lot of games this year so going forward it should help us. If they care as much as I do they will not sleep tonight and if that is what it takes for them to think about what they’re doing then it should be helpful in that respect.”

For the better part of three quarters it was a fast-paced game with neither side having trouble with putting points on the board. In the first half alone there were eight different Cougars who scored, but the final quarter of play was a much different story.

After freshman Jessie McCartney knocked down a buzzer-beater 3-pointer to give Climax Springs a 50-47 lead at the end of the third quarter, both offenses went cold with neither side scoring for the first five minutes of the final frame. The Cougars still retained the lead with 1:30 remaining, but the seven turnovers committed by the Cougars and a two-minute scoring drought began to add up as Niangua was able to take advantage.

“The kids are so young they just got rattled and they could not function, think or listen,” Butterfield said of his young club that has no seniors. “They ‘want to’ and that is the main thing so if that continues we’ll be alright in the future.”

Of course, it also did not help that it was difficult for Climax Springs to maintain continuity on the floor with three Cougars fouling out and another who carried four fouls for the final six minutes of play. Butterfield said there were plenty of mistakes his own team made, but he was frustrated with the officiating to say the least.

“I could not keep anybody on the floor. The man did not know the rules and the bottom line is that I could not keep people on the floor so what do you do,” he remarked. “We are young and not very deep anyway so throw that in there and you cannot do anything. Everyone has to sit half the time and I have never been so frustrated in my life with an individual.

“I hate to be that guy and I’ve never said anything like that before, but it is what it is. We shot ourselves in the foot too,” he added.

Climax Springs sophomore Jake Reed and McCartney paced the Cougars with 16 points each, sophomore Dakota Davis added seven and freshman Jacob Bryant finished with five.

Butterfield said his kids have been through a lot this season, but his message has stayed the same from day one.

“I am proud my kids and would not trade them for anyone else’s... I just keep telling them we need to get better every day,” the coach said. “That has been the focus from the beginning. The mountain came tumbling down and the rocks came down on top of us with people hurt and gone so we just kept trying to get better.

“I’m not worried about postseason play one little bit. Let’s just win games... That is all I want is just to get better. I’m not worried about winning,” he added.

Climax Springs (3-20) will wrap up the regular season with a trip to Richland on Thursday at 5:30 p.m.