Making history might not have been first and foremost on the minds of the Lakota East Thunderhawks going into their game on Tuesday against Oak Hills, but they blitzed the Highlanders as if it was dominating their thoughts.
Lakota East opened the game with a 15-0 run before settling for a 48-34 final that clinched the Thunderhawks’ second consecutive Greater Miami Conference boys basketball championship.
Playing its regular-season home finale, Lakota East (19-2, 14-1 GMC) extended its winning streak to 10 games while becoming the first Lakota district high school to win back-to-back GMC titles. The win left the Thunderhawks with a two-game lead in the conference and one to play – at Lakota West on Friday.
“We might’ve mentioned it, but I think they were focused on just winning a championship,” said Lakota East coach Clint Adkins, whose team can reach 20 regular-season wins for the first time since the 2014-2015 team was 20-2 going into postseason play.
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“They told us in practice on Sunday,” said junior Nate Johnson, who led both teams with 12 points and three assists, including a precious behind-the-back pass in the lane to senior Alex Mangold for a wide-open layup and a 30-17 lead going into the fourth quarter. “That’s a great accomplishment.”
The Thunderhawks withstood a 7-minute, 42-second scoring drought to lead by as many as 19 points against an Oak Hills (15-6, 12-3) team that was the last to beat them, 53-46 on January 7 at Oak Hills. Despite the slump, Lakota East shot a sizzling 69.2 percent (9-of-13) from the field in the second half and 56.7 percent (17-of-30) for the game.
The teams combined to go 26-of-29 on free throws, including Oak Hills’s 14-of-15.
Lakota East deployed an all-senior starting lineup on Senior Night. Raucous introductions included Mark Krajewski tossing a football into the student cheering section and classmate Alex Mangold shooting a selfie with the students cheering in the background.
The Highlanders needed 7 minutes, 50 seconds to get on the scoreboard and 14:24 to reach double figures. Oak Hills committed six turnovers before scoring, leading to Lakota East’s 9-2 advantage in points off turnovers before halftime.
“They only turn the ball over 9-1/2 times a game,” Adkins said of Oak Hills. “They’re fundamentally sound and well-coached. We were jacked up, but we stuck to the game plan, and they defended their tails off.”
“Our defense has improved a lot since the start of the season,” Johnson said.
Johnson, who missed Lakota East’s win at Princeton on Friday with strep throat, came off the bench to score six points in the first quarter, including a jumper at the buzzer to give the Thunderhawks a 17-2 lead. He also escalated the fervor in the gym by stripping a Highlander of the ball near midcourt and flying in for a ferocious dunk.
“Plays like that can give you momentum,” said Johnson, his face lighting up at the reminder. “The first group gave us a spark, and me being able to come off the bench and continue it was great.”
Oak Hills cut the deficit to six points midway through the third quarter before – in a span of 59 seconds – senior Kaden Fuhrmann connected on a short jump shot, Johnson scored on a layup and senior Trevor Howard sank a 3-pointer from the right corner to give the Thunderhawks a 28-17 lead with 2:17 left in the period.
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