Alex White struggled to find words Friday night.
Lakota East High School’s boys basketball team thought it was headed for a lengthy tournament run, but ran into a Greater Catholic League wall known as the Elder Panthers at Xavier University’s Cintas Center.
The Thunderhawks’ season ended with a 57-46 defeat in a Division I sectional final, leaving White and his teammates in a somber mood.
“I love every single one of those guys in there,” said White, who finished with 10 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks. “I wouldn’t trade any of them for anything. I loved stepping out on that court every day with them. They’re my brothers. They’ll always be my brothers.”
Third-seeded East (22-3) held a 29-23 lead at halftime, then watched Elder reel off 11 straight points to start the third stanza.
The Panthers won that quarter by an 18-6 margin and stood firm in the final period, ending the contest with a 13-5 surge after the Thunderhawks twice narrowed the gap to three.
“We always say first three minutes, and in the first three minutes of the second half, they came out and beat us,” White said. “There wasn’t much else to it.”
Frankie Hofmeyer tallied eight of his 18 points in the third quarter for the fourth-seeded Panthers (22-2).
“The third quarter killed us,” East coach Clint Adkins said. “They went 4 for 5 from three, and we missed some shots where we were wide open. That’s probably the game.
“To our guys’ credit, they fought back. We just couldn’t get enough stops on the defensive end.”
Peyton Ramsey and Brad Miller tossed in 10 points apiece for Elder, which shot 48.8 percent from the floor, 64.7 percent after intermission.
Joey Sabato contributed seven assists, Kyle Orloff scored eight points, Ramsey grabbed six rebounds, and Hofmeyer added four steals.
“I thought we kind of settled down and actually moved more intelligently in the second half,” Panthers coach Joe Schoenfeld said. “I think we were a little nervous at the start of the game … the big arena, a very good team we’re playing against. I think we were just a little off stride.
“In the second half, we just said, ‘We’ve got to move ourselves.’ Just move the ball, move ourselves, whether it was a man or a zone, and I think the kids started falling into a comfort zone and really got after it.”
Zone defense has been a strength for the Thunderhawks because of their length. They played zone and man-to-man Friday.
“They started to dissect our zone a little bit in the first half, and that’s why we made the switch to man,” Adkins said. “We were really good in our man in the first half, and that’s why we played a little bit more man in the second half. Maybe we should’ve played more zone.”
Schoenfeld credited 6-foot-5 junior Tommy Kraemer for coming off the bench and performing well against East’s big men.
“And we got some great hustle plays, great Elder plays, and that’s what we’ve got to do,” Schoenfeld said. “Everybody kind of fed off each other. The kids worked their tails off in the second half.”
Elder was 8 of 16 on 3-pointers. Adkins felt Mitch Moorhead provided the biggest one, a baseline trey with 2:22 left that pushed the Panthers’ lead to 47-41.
“That was the back-breaker,” Adkins said. “He’s a kid that’s hit seven or eight threes on the year. He’s taking a big three in a fourth-quarter situation, and that’s what we want. To his credit, he hit the shot.”
Adam Dieball and Dylan Lowry both scored 11 points for the Thunderhawks, who saw their 13-game winning streak come to an end. Chris Bates added nine points.
East shot 62.5 percent from the field in the opening two quarters, 35 percent thereafter.
It was the final game for eight LEHS seniors: White, Lowry, Dieball, Bates, Mitchell Mays, Brad Buckenmyer, Isaiah Boaz and Chris Blount.
“I’ll never forget those guys,” Adkins said. “They have a special, special place in my heart. I thank them so much for everything that they’ve done for this program. They’re great basketball players, but more importantly, they’re phenomenal people. That’s what I love the most about them. Those guys are going to go on and do great things.”
The loss also wrapped up Adkins’ first season at the Thunderhawk helm.
“I couldn’t ask for anything more from a group of guys that came out every single day and worked their butts off and were never an issue for me,” he said. “Our daily attitude and effort were phenomenal.
“Our goal was to make a tournament run, and we thought we had the team to do that, but it wasn’t meant to be. It’s not going to take away from the fact that these guys had a tremendous season. (Greater Miami Conference) champs, we won a tournament down in Miami … I’m so pleased with our guys. It’s an awesome group.”
La Salle 43, Mason 41: The fifth-seeded Lancers trailed by as many as 14 points in the first half before rallying to win a sectional championship in Friday’s first game at the Cintas Center.
“I couldn’t be prouder,” La Salle coach Dan Fleming said after picking up his 400th victory at the school. “I told Nick Watson with five seconds to go, ‘I’m about ready to cry.’ I was so happy for these guys and the fight they had and the courage they had.
“We’re not the prettiest team to watch, but our guys try like hell. They work their tails off every day. La Salle basketball is important to them, to our fans, to our students, and that’s why we’ve got a chance to be good one day.”
The Lancers (20-5) were behind most of the night, taking the lead for the first time (37-36) with 3:18 remaining. The Comets went ahead 38-37 at 2:26, then La Salle ran off six straight points — a basket and two free throws by Donte Buycks, and two foul shots by Da’Meak Brandon with 5.2 seconds left.
Michael Beebe fired in a long 3-pointer at the buzzer for top-seeded Mason, which finished 20-2.
The Comets were limited to 15 second-half points. They led 26-18 at the break.
“We talked at halftime about just trying to toughen up a little bit and guard a little bit better,” Fleming said. “(Our defensive focus is) really not going to change. We demand it every day. We demand it year-round whenever we’re doing anything.
“Donte Buycks gave us a real big effort. They had a hard time guarding him.”
Buycks scored 17 points and teammate Jeremy Larkin had 16. The Lancers tallied 14 points off 12 Mason turnovers.
The Comets, who shot 51.7 percent from the field, got 16 points from Cameron Arminio. Rodney Hutchison chipped in eight.
The district finals are set for Saturday, March 14, at the University of Dayton Arena. The times have not been determined, but the matchups are as follows: Elder vs. Centerville-Xenia winner, La Salle vs. Lebanon-Springfield winner, Wilmington vs. Moeller and Milford vs. Tecumseh-Wayne winner.
Lakota East 11-18-6-11—46
ELDER (22-2): Peyton Ramsey 4 1 10; Frankie Hofmeyer 7 0 18; Brad Miller 4 1 10; Mitch Moorhead 2 1 6; Kyle Orloff 1 6 8; Ryan Custer 1 0 3; Tommy Kraemer 1 0 2. Totals: 20-9-57.
LAKOTA EAST (22-3): Chris Bates 2 4 9; Adam Dieball 4 1 11; Dylan Lowry 5 1 11; Mitchell Mays 0 1 1; Alex White 4 2 10; Andrew Emrick 2 0 4. Totals: 17-9-46.
3-pters: E 8 (Hofmeyer 4, Ramsey, Miller, Custer, Moorhead), LE 3 (Dieball 2, Bates)
La Salle 4-14-13-12—43
MASON (20-2): Matt King 1 0 3; Kyle Lamotte 2 0 5; Michael Beebe 1 1 4; Cameron Arminio 6 1 16; Rodney Hutchison 3 2 8; Blake Benjamin 1 0 2; Spencer Cline 1 1 3. Totals: 15-5-41.
LA SALLE (20-5): Jeremy Larkin 7 1 16; Nick Watson 0 2 2; C.J. Fleming 1 3 5; Da’Meak Brandon 0 3 3; Donte Buycks 7 3 17. Totals: 15-12-43.
3-pters: M 6 (Arminio 3, King, Lamotte, Beebe), L 1 (Larkin)
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