"You're going to have to play teams like this when you get to this level," Burgin coach Keith Monson said.
Burgin (17-14) was facing a double-digit deficit before the first quarter ended, but the Lady Bulldogs weren't really out of the race until the third quarter, when South Laurel (23-6) outscored them 22-4.
"We played some pretty good ball tonight in spurts, even against a good team," Monson said.
It wasn't nearly enough against a South Laurel team that shot 50 percent and outrebounded Burgin 41-19.
But the Lady Bulldogs got enough out of the game to whet their appetite for next season.
"It was good experience, and I know now we'll have confidence next time, and we'll know we'll be able to make it," sophomore forward Taylor Bottoms said. "We've got a bunch of young girls, and we're looking forward to coming back to the region the next three years."
Bottoms said she could tell right away that this wasn't just another game.
"It's a bigger accomplishment, and it's a bigger game," she said. "There's more pressure."
"The atmosphere is just so neat," Monson said. "We walked in during the first game, and it's just a static in the air.
"We always have to watch, and we got to participate this year, and it's got to be a valuable experience regardless."
It was also a close game for a short time, as Burgin erased an early 5-0 deficit to achieve the only tie of the game at 7-all before the Lady Cardinals responded with a 16-1 run.
But while Burgin was 2-for-13 from the field in the first quarter, South Laurel went 7-for-12, a harbinger of things to come.
"We came out a little sluggish at the beginning, but I thought we shot the ball decent tonight," South Laurel coach Konnie Snyder said.
Burgin held its own in the second quarter, when it outscored South Laurel 17-16 thanks in part to 3-for-5 shooting from 3-point range.
But South Laurel scored the first 12 points of the second half, holding the Lady Bulldogs scoreless for the first 5:35 of the third period.
"We had two or three early stops where we caused turnovers, and we didn't do anything with them," Monson said. "If we'd been able to convert some of those in the third quarter, we could've kept it a whole lot closer."
South Laurel took advantage of its size and its ability to score in transition - "That's pretty much the way we play; we're looking to get transition baskets," Snyder said - to stretch its lead to 30 points in the final minute of the third period.
"We didn't get back a lot of times, and they scored a lot of easy baskets," Monson said.
Bulldogs shot 22 percent for the game
Burgin went 3-for-18 from the field in the second half and were 9-for-41 (22 percent) overall.
"We're good shooters, and I thought the jitters just got us," Monson said.
Bottoms led Burgin with 13 points, and eighth-grader Bev Harris was the only other Lady Bulldog with more than one basket.
South Laurel, which was 27-for-54 from the field, got 19 points from Amber Neace and 10 each from Mallory Jones and Sabrina Manning.
Monson noted that while Burgin's shooting wasn't good, the Lady Bulldogs have raised their percentage from 29 percent last season to about 38 percent this season.
And their total of 20 turnovers was far lower than it might have been in similar games a year ago.
"We've improved in every aspect of the game," Monson said. "We're getting there."
Now Burgin, which has no seniors on its roster, will concentrate on getting back to the regional stage next season.
"We had some kids with their heads down a little bit in the locker room after the game, and that's understandable," Monson said.
"I told them, 'Next year, we're going to try to get here and win a game or two.'"
BURGIN (17-14) - Andrea Warner 5, Taylor Bottoms 13, Stephanie Stewart 3, Bev Harris 4, Amanda Carey 3, Ann Harris 4, Meredith Lear 2.
SOUTH LAUREL (23-6) - Taran Johnson 6, Amber Neace 19, Brittany Turner 4, Whitney Smith 3, Mallory Jones 10, Courtney Hamm 4, Sabrina Manning 10, Porsha Justice 2, Devon Burchette 8, Kayla Valentine 1, Kayla Baker 2.