Late free throws lift Lakota East to district championship

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Alex Mangold sat in the stands with a broken leg at last year’s district tournament. His Lakota East teammates won that day, and he missed being with them. This year he was on the court in the right place at the right time. And are his teammates, coaches and fans ever thankful.

Mangold’s team trailed by a point with 20 seconds left and had to work hard for an open shot against Beavercreek’s defense. Nate Johnson, who scored 16 points, tried to create a shot but had to pass out to Trevor Howard on the left wing. Howard had to shoot, but his 3-point try missed the rim.

»PHOTOS: East tops Beavercreek

And there stood Mangold, all 6-foot-7 of him. He grabbed the rebound and tried to score. But he was fouled with 1.6 seconds left.

“I was just looking to get into some bodies down low,” he said. “And I’m taller than most of them, so grab it and just put it back up. I was expecting the worst.”

Mangold is a 65% free-throw shooter. Johnson said he never misses in practice. Mangold made them both — his only points — and the Thunderhawks had a 33-32 victory, their second straight district title, their third in five years, fourth in school history and a school-record 24th victory.

“I didn’t have the best game of my life whatsoever, so just thankful for my teammates and my coaches getting us to that spot,” Mangold said. “I’m glad I could get that offensive rebound, get fouled, put it back up. After I made that first one, a lot of weight came off my shoulders.”

There were still 1.6 seconds left. Beavercreek inbounded to Chris Herbort at midcourt. He was able to turn to his right and heave a shot that bounced off the rim.

“I was literally right there when he shot it, and I looked and it looked like it was about to go in,” Johnson said.

East coach Clint Adkins had a good look at the shot, too.

“He let it go and in my mind, ‘That’s good. That’s good,’” Adkins said. “From my angle, I’m going, ‘Oh, my God, that’s going to be a tragic way to lose.’ But luckily it didn’t go in.”

And before the final theatrics, Beavercreek (16-10) had what it hoped would be its own dramatic finish. The Beavers missed a shot, but 6-foot-7 sophomore Gabe Phillips was fouled going for the rebound. Phillips, a 43.2% free-throw shooter in the regular season, went to the line and made both for a 32-31 lead.

Beavercreek coach Steve Pittman was proud of his team’s fight and for what Phillips did. But as the former Middletown coach he was familiar with Mangold’s injury.

“I’m a competitor, but for a kid to bounce back from something like that and he’s a senior, it’s a feel-good story,” Pittman said. “I’m really proud of the kid.”

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