Lakota East defeated La Salle on Wednesday night to advance to the Division I regional finals for the first time in school history. Nick Graham/STAFF

Boys basketball: Lakota East advances to regional finals for first time in school history

The Thunderhawks had reason to be excited. They were on the verge of adding yet another chapter to what has been an historic season.

Senior Kaden Fuhrman scored 17 points and sank 5-of-6 free throws in the last 35.6 seconds to lead Lakota East to a 44-35 win over La Salle in a Division I regional semifinal at Xavier University’s Cintas Center. The win lifts the Thunderhawks to their first regional championship appearance in program history. They will meet Moeller on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Cintas.

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“It feels great,” the 6-foot-3 Fuhrmann said. “That was one of our goals, to get past where we’d been stuck at. We’ve made a lot of history this year, and this is the coolest thing yet.”

Lakota East (25-2) had lost in the regional semifinals three times since 2011 going into Wednesday’s game. Reaching the finals joins winning back-to-back Greater Miami Conference championships – a first for any boys basketball team in Lakota district history – and setting a single-season record for wins among the Thunderhawks’ notable accomplishments.

“It’s pretty special for the guys,” coach Clint Adkins said. “Back-to-back GMC championships, back-to-back district championships, now reaching the Elite Eight – it’s pretty special.”

Senior center Alex Mangold scored 10 points and was 2-for-2 on free throws while Lakota East was going 9-of-10 from the line in the last 1:29 to pull away from the Lancers, who were just 2-of-11 from the field in the fourth quarter. The Thunderhawks outrebounded the Lancers, 21-9, in the game.

“We had a lot of confidence,” Adkins said. “If you’re good on free throws and defend the way we defend, you’re going to win a lot of games.”

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The game was played before a sparse crowd due to attendance restrictions created by coronavirus concerns.

“I was concerned that the circus before the game might affect them a little bit, but once the ball was thrown up, it wasn’t a problem,” Adkins said.

“My family was here, and that’s all that matters,” said Fuhrmann, whose eight-point third quarter spurred Lakota East’s comeback. “We know we had great support back in Liberty Township.”

La Salle (23-4), ranked ninth in the Associated Press Division I statewide poll, opened up a 20-10 lead with 4:22 left in the second quarter before the eighth-ranked Thunderhawks closed the half on 7-0 run. The Lancers forced nine turnovers before halftime, helping them to a 10-4 advantage in points off turnovers.

Lakota East will take a 16-game winning streak into its matchup with top-ranked Moeller (26-1), which has won 25 straight as well as the last two Division I state championships. The Crusaders advanced with a 54-42 win over Centerville in Wednesday’s opener. Moeller knocked Lakota East out of last year’s tournament with a 47-33 win in the regional semifinals.

“We’re not scared,” Fuhrmann said. “We’re two really good teams. We won’t back down.”

“They’re everything you want in a team,” Adkins said. “I think, a lot of teams, teams are afraid of what’s on the jersey. We won’t be afraid of the jersey.”

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