CINCINNATI — In a game determined by a little more than a second, and a little bit more than an inch, Beavercreek fell to Liberty Township Lakota East by a 33-32 score in a Division I district championship boys high school basketball game, Sunday, March 8 at the Cintas Center on the Xavier University campus.
Thanks to a pair of clutch converted free throws from sophomore season 43-percent free throw shooter Gabe Phillips, the Beavers held a 32-31 lead with 20.2 seconds left on the game clock, but East’s Alex Mangold snared an offensive rebound, was fouled with 1.6 seconds to go, and hit both free throws to give the Thunderhawks their second consecutive district crown and third in the last five years.
“For Gabe to make those free throws late in the game to put us up by one, that was incredible,” Beavercreek Coach Steve Pittman said. “He struggles from the line, but goes and knocks down two big ones for us. Then we go down and get them to take an off-balanced shot, but all year long our Achille’s Heel has been rebounds. We were one box out away from advancing.”
Beavercreek had one last-gasp try at a shot as the buzzer sounded. Chris Herbort heaved up a shot from just beyond the half-court line and along the right sideline, and the ball bounced off the rim.
“I thought it was in,” Lakota East coach Clint Adkins said. “He let it go, and in my mind I’m saying ‘That’s good.’ It sure looked good from where I was. One of the things that we do in those situations is try and get guys to go to their weak hand, and Herbort was able to put it in his right hand and kinda step into it. He let it go, and from my angle I’m thinking ‘Oh my God! That is going to be a tragic way to lose.’ “
Beavers senior Yousef Saleh led Beavercreek (19-10) with 15 points scored, Herbort was next with six points, Phillips scored five while Siloam Baldwin and Adam Duvall combined for six.
Lakota East (23-2) was led by Nate Johnson who scored a game-best 16 points. Alex Mangold scored nine, including the game winners, Jadon Coles added seven, and four other Thunderhawks combined for eight points.
Pittman had coached at Middletown High last year, a school in the Greater Miami Conference with Lakota East, and so he was familiar with the struggles that East’s Mangold had been dealing with.
“I was familair with Mangold hurting his knee, and being out for most of the second half of the season. And for him to get up to the line with 1.6 seconds to go and knock down two free throws to win it, I’ve just gotta take my hat off to him. I’m always a competitor, but for a kid to bounce back from something like that —and he’s a senior — it’s a feel-good story, and I’m really proud of the kid,” Pittman said.
East advances to take on Cincinnati La Salle, a 60-52 overtime winner over Cincinnati St. Xavier, in the next round. That contest is scheduled for an 8 p.m. start on Wednesday, March 11 back at Xavier University’s Cintas Center.
Saleh joins Herbort, Adam Vest, Ben Phillips and Mali Harris-Strayhorn as Beavercreek seniors playing their final game.
“”Props to their big man for knocking down those free throws. There’s nothing much that we could do about that,” Saleh said. “We started out the game a little timid, and I didn’t think we were attacking like we do. But once we started attacking and moving more, the nerves started going away and some of us started getting into it a little bit more.
“”Even when we were down by four, or five, six points late in the game, we never gave up. We kept fighting. … We never quit, and I’m proud of them for that. You can quit at any time in a game like that, especially when you’re down late, but we never did.”
Contact John Bombatch at 937-372-4444, Ext. 2123.