CINCINNATI — Lakota East High School’s collective mood was all you’d expect in such a situation … severe disappointment and tremendous pride wrestling for prominence at Xavier University’s Cintas Center.
That was the Thunderhawks on Wednesday night after they made the third Division I regional basketball appearance in school history, but fell to 0-3 in regional semifinals with a 47-33 loss to defending state champion Moeller.
East coach Clint Adkins focused on his eight seniors — Bash Wieland, Grant Spicer, Will Johnston, Colton Marsh, Deshawn Brown-Jackson, Stephen McKay, Nick Holtman and Kyrell Metts — after the emotional defeat left the Thunderhawks with a 20-6 record.
“It’s a group of kids who won a sectional championship last year. They won a district championship this year, won a (Greater Miami Conference) championship this year,” Adkins said. “So they’re leaving a legacy of doing something that no senior group has ever done at Lakota East.
“More importantly, they’re high-character kids. They came to work every day. More than anything, I’m going to miss that relationship that I had with them. It’s definitely a special season, a special group of guys.”
Wieland, the GMC Athlete of the Year, mentioned Metts and Alex Mangold, who were both out with injuries. Metts didn’t play all season, while Mangold went down in Game 12.
“It was a great season. To cut down the nets, that’s an unbelievable experience,” Wieland said. “We battled adversity all year … but this group never folded, and I’m just really proud of that. It’s something I’ll remember the rest of my life.”
The Thunderhawks were 23-2 and GMC champs in 2011 when they lost to Westerville South in the regional. East was 18-8 and tied for second in the conference in 2016 when it lost to Centerville in the regional.
“We’ve got a really good young crew of kids coming up,” Adkins said. “I think we had five freshmen on JV this year and they lost four games, so the pipeline is really, really good. But our goal is to get to Columbus. We’ve got the program in the right direction. We’ve just got to keep pushing and work harder.”
Wednesday’s loss included 29-percent shooting by the Thunderhawks, who had the lead only once (7-6) all night.
East’s offense was especially poor in the first half, converting two field goals in 15 attempts. Wieland was 0-of-7 in the first two quarters.
Wieland would finish with a team-high 11 points, but the Moeller defense in general and Max Land in particular made the evening very difficult for him.
“God, I love that player,” Crusaders coach Carl Kremer said of Wieland. “He is a really, really good high school basketball player. He was the big target for us. We challenged Maxwell — you’ve got to use your athleticism, make it uncomfortable for him, contest. I thought that might be the single key to the game.”
Wieland thought he had five open shots in the first half that simply wouldn’t fall. He was 3-of-5 from the field after intermission.
“They were jamming me and being physical with me and (doing) what I expected,” said Wieland, who had 22 points in a 61-53 loss to Moeller on Jan. 20. “In the end, I just didn’t really make shots. I think I was 3-for-12 from the field — that’s not like me. But that’s just how it was.”
The Thunderhawks trailed 17-9 at halftime. They wanted a slower pace and longer possessions, but when the shots weren’t falling, that approach produced large chunks of time without points.
“The first time we played them they did that, and at the end of those possessions, they got open 3s,” Kremer said. “They got a couple in the first half (tonight), maybe one. But most of the shots they ended up taking were pretty tough shots.
“It’s hard to play against teams that are holding the ball for 45 (seconds), a minute. I’m not complaining. Every coach has to do what he has to do to help his team win. But I would like a shot clock.”
Kremer said his squad has been controlling opponents on the boards all season, so he credited East for its 24-21 rebounding advantage. The Thunderhawks totaled 11 offensive boards.
East was competitive throughout the contest and was within 38-31 after a Johnston 3-pointer with 3:09 remaining. But the Crusaders finished the game with a 9-2 run and extended their winning streak to 46.
“Defensively, they were fantastic tonight,” Adkins said. “They’re longer than us at every single position, and we don’t typically see that. How many teams do we play that have the size of Moeller? So when our guys actually get by somebody, now we’re trying to finish at the rim over 6-5, 6-6, 6-7 guys that are athletic. Even on the shots we got, a lot of times we were getting our 3s at about 21 foot instead of 19 (feet) nine (inches), and you’re shooting over length.
“I thought our guys competed their butts off like they do every single night. As poorly as we shot it, we still had an opportunity to win. I thought we did a decent job of taking care of the basketball. We just had some timely turnovers that were kind of backbreakers for us.”
Alex Williams came off the bench and led Moeller (26-0) with 13 points. Michael Shipp had nine, Miles McBride eight and Alec Pfriem seven as the Crusaders shot 51.5 percent from the field. McBride and Pfriem combined for 11 assists and 10 rebounds.
“Lakota East is tough,” said Shipp, a senior forward. “They made us work for everything we got, but we wanted to make them work for everything they got. Guard our yard — we just want to guard every inch of that floor, not let anything easy up and keep them off the boards.”
Pfriem, a senior forward who will play with Wieland at Bellarmine University next season, said Moeller didn’t mind playing defense for long stretches of time. He said the Crusaders were prepared to do exactly that.
“Anytime a team plays like we play, really structured and disciplined, it’s like a chess match,” Pfriem said. “You’ve just got to see which move’s the best, and eventually we figured it out.”
Kremer wasn’t surprised that the 6-foot-4 Williams was very good, noting that he’s a very confident 10th-grader.
“He’s big time,” Shipp said. “He’s going to be so good by the time he leaves here. He’s just that energy that comes off the bench. We love him.”
Nate Johnson scored nine points and Johnston added eight for East, while Spicer grabbed seven rebounds. Kaden Fuhrmann, Wieland and Johnson had five boards apiece.
Johnson, a sophomore, was 3-of-3 from the floor and played some excellent defense against McBride.
“The progression that he made in the last month, it’s unbelievable,” Adkins said. “In my opinion, Nate’s going to be the best point guard in the city next year.”
Moeller advanced to Saturday’s 7 p.m. regional title game and will face Centerville, a 67-63 winner over Springfield in Wednesday’s second semifinal.
Lakota East 7-2-12-12—33
LAKOTA EAST (20-6): Kaden Fuhrmann 1 0 3; Bash Wieland 3 5 11; Will Johnston 2 2 8; Grant Spicer 0 2 2; Nate Johnson 3 3 9. Totals: 9-12-33
MOELLER (26-0): Michael Shipp 4 0 9; Alec Pfriem 2 3 7; Miles McBride 3 1 8; Max Land 2 2 6; Logan Duncomb 2 0 4; Alex Williams 4 4 13. Totals: 17-10-47
3-pointers: L 3 (Johnston 2, Fuhrmann), M 3 (Shipp, McBride, Williams)