The conclusion of Graves County’s KHSAA state championship match was a little more subdued than most other championship finals.

In the nearly empty GCHS computer lab 38 minutes after play started, the players put down their headphones and heaved a sigh. No runner-up trophy to hold; just computers to switch off.

Even though the team, Leverage Esports, came up short for the state esports title in the soccer/demolition derby video game called Rocket League Tuesday, team members – Avery Bradley, Isaac Lockwood and Garrett Matheny – felt a mix of satisfaction and determination for another shot.

“We were expecting to get pretty high up, because we’ve been playing for a while since the game’s been out,” Lockwood said. “But to see the level of competition throughout and to get to this high of a level, it’s been fun.”

Graves County’s inaugural Rocket League team lost to Shelby County, 4-1, in the best-of-seven game series. Lockwood scored the lone goal in the first game, but Shelby’s three-player Gold Team won the next three games by a combined 4-0.

In the fifth game, Lockwood again put Graves County up, 1-0, but with 22 seconds left in the five-minute period Shelby scored and sent the game into a sudden death overtime. And 13 ticks in, Shelby Gold scored the game winner for the championship.

Lockwood said his team wasn’t pressured much in the opening win and were able to move around Shelby’s side of the playing field.

“Speed of play was a lot more intense,” Bradley added. “There’d be three of them at the ball before one of us could get there.”

Graves defeated Perry County Central, Louisville Doss, Martha Layne Collins and St. Henry to reach the first KHSAA Rocket League Esports championship. Shelby Gold beat Central Hardin, two McCracken County teams and Boyle County.

Graves County coach Anna Rhea commended all of the esports players, who comprised two League of Legends and a SMITE team.

“It’s been super exciting, especially for our first year offering this program,” she said. “Those boys came in gung-ho, but they had been playing for years, so the team build, itself, was already in place.”

For Matheny, he and his fellow juniors were already in preseason mode for Year Two.

“We’re definitely going to be playing a lot before next year,” he said. “We’re going to get faster and more aggressive and try to get higher in the ranks.”