COLQUITT, GA (WALB) - Before one game this season, Miller County head girls' basketball coach Mike Sauls had to turn to his school's cheerleading squad to find his fifth starter.
"You have to have five to start the game, and we only had four," he remembers.
Sauls remembered a student from his P.E. class was with the team's cheerleaders.
"Immediately, I was like, 'She's eligible. I know she's a great athlete,'" he says. "She gladly went in there, and she helped us out."
That one instance encapsulates the adversity the Lady Pirates faced this season, which came to an end Tuesday night.
Sauls saw his team lose half of it's players to injury midseason. Three were injured in a car accident after a game. Another broke her foot, while another suffered a knee injury.
"We played several games 3-on-5," he says.
The Lady Pirates advanced to the Region 1-A quarterfinals with a win over Webster County in a game they finished with only four players. When they lost to top-seeded Mitchell County Tuesday night, only five players dressed out.
In order to prepare for upcoming opponents, Sauls and his assistant coach would double as scout teamers, emulating the other teams' key players. Every once in a while, the Lady Pirates would use some of the boys from the middle school team to help.
He says it was incredibly easy to get discouraged, but he never let himself or his team get down on themselves.
"In life, we're not guaranteed a bed of roses. I think the game of basketball teaches us a lot about life," Sauls says. "You have to depend on, first and foremost, your faith in God. With his strength, we're going to make things happen, regardless of what's going on."
It's easy to see why Miller County managed only three wins this season, but Sauls says it's not the wins and losses that matter. He says the life lessons his team has learned are priceless.
"Basketball is like life. You have a challenge. Are you going to quit, or are you going to step up and put your best foot forward?" he says. "Our kids just never quit."
That is what he's most proud of.
"Even when we were getting beat, even when we were down, we'd say keep your head up. Believe in yourself," Sauls says. "This group that we have right now is just a special group. Wins may not be where we're going to be on the top of the charts, but as far as our heart, character wise, they're second to none."
If there is a silver lining to be found, Sauls doesn't have to look hard for it. After all the adversity faced and lessons learned, this team will return intact next year. There are no seniors on this Lady Pirates squad, and Sauls expects everyone back fully healthy next season.
"We've got a couple kids that are going to come in. We want to just keep working," he says. "We work hard every day, and just try to capitalize on the things we've accomplished this season."