Coach Dave Byers talked until he was blue in the face and 6-foot-8 center Russell DeMont battled under the boards until his body was black and blue.
But nothing seemed to lift the sagging Westminster basketball team until senior guard Charles Van Horn stepped forward with some major-league three-point shooting in the final month of the season.
Van Horn began his show with five three-pointers against North Carroll (28 points overall) and concluded it with two important three-pointers Thursday night in a 61-42 victory over South Carroll that clinched a second straight Carroll County high school boys basketball championship for Westminster.
The long-range production by Van Horn took a lot of pressure off DeMont in the middle and helped carry the Owls to five straight wins after a 4-11 start.
Van Horn averaged 21.6 points down the stretch for Westminster, which virtually snatched the county title out of South Carroll's hands.
The Cavaliers appeared to be on the verge of taking the title away from the Owls a week ago, after they got off to a 3-0 start in the county and Westminster had lost to Liberty.
However, Van Horn and the Owls knocked off South Carroll twice in four days to hold on to the title.
The Cavaliers had the most balance in the county, and Westminster had DeMont.
But the key ingredient proved to be Van Horn, who rebounded from a midseason slump that put him deep on the team's bench.
"Charles went from a starter to deep on the bench to a starter again," said Byers.
"It was just a matter of him gaining confidence in his shot again. In the middle of the season, Charles would miss one or two shots and lose confidence and he knew he was coming out of the game.
"At the end, he knew he was staying in the game even if he missed a couple of shots because I knew he had his confidence."
Another reason for Van Horn being benched in January was the fact that Byers decided to "go with kids who were better defensively."
Byers said Van Horn didn't sulk or quit. He continued to work in practice even though it looked as if he might wind up his high school career on a real downer.
Then came the North Carroll game, and all those long summer hours spent on the court practicing on his own seemed worthwhile.
"I was finally getting in the flow," said Van Horn. "I was getting more minutes and it was helping me. After sitting on the bench as a junior behind a lot of good players, I thought I would have more responsibility to score this year and it turned out that way down the stretch."
Van Horn said the lowest point and the turning point came Feb. 4 at Liberty, when the Lions handed Westminster a 66-57 loss.
"Our pride was hurt," he said. "We underestimated Liberty and weren't ready to play them. We just thought they didn't have the talent to beat us like in past years. But they were a good team and out-hustled us. After that game, we had something to prove and we did it."
One might think that scoring 28 points against North Carroll would rate as the biggest thrill in Van Horn's career. Not really.
"The most satisfying thing was to make the team and contribute at a big school like Westminster that has about 2,000 students," he said. "And it was a real honor to play for Coach Byers. He's always motivating us and pushing us to be better."
But even Byers was beginning to believe he might not be able to turn this Westminster team around.
"Maybe it took us this long for the players to start ignoring me," said Byers with a smile. "It's been a very tough season for the kids as well as the coaches. To be around your peers and not to do what you want is frustrating."