Jarrett Cox was a man on a quest for a championship Friday night. That mind-set led to some personal domination.
The Lakota East High School senior guard battered La Salle with 26 points, nine rebounds and two assists as the Thunderhawks won 60-54 at the Hamilton Athletic Center, securing the third Division I sectional boys basketball title in program history.
“That’s what you expect from your best player,” East coach Clint Adkins said. “You expect him in big-game situations to rise to the occasion. He certainly did that tonight and carried us. He’s a special talent.”
Cox, the Greater Miami Conference’s leading scorer the last two seasons and a Fairmont State University commit, was happy to carry the GMC banner against the Greater Catholic League South Division Lancers (15-10).
“We came out knowing we were going to win, and that’s how we played,” Cox said. “The feeling is just amazing. I think we proved to the GCL guys that we’re pretty tough.”
The sixth-seeded Thunderhawks (16-8) also got 11 points from Bash Wieland, along with 8 points and eight boards from Alex Mangold, and earned a 34-25 advantage on the glass.
East will meet GMC rival Princeton, a two-time winner over the Thunderhawks this season, for a district crown at 1 p.m. next Saturday at the University of Dayton Arena.
Princeton routed Sycamore 79-45 for a sectional title, but the Vikings will be shorthanded against East. Darius Bazley and Dominic Pierce got ejected Friday and must serve two-game suspensions.
“We can’t worry about anybody except ourselves,” Adkins said. “Whoever shows up to play for Princeton, we’ll worry about that when it happens. We’ve got to worry about Lakota East High School.”
The Thunderhawks were behind only twice (2-0 and 4-2) against La Salle, the No. 9 seed. The Lancers trailed 37-35 at the third stop, but watched East gain some separation with an 11-point run to start the fourth quarter.
La Salle coach Pat Goedde said his team’s help-side defense wasn’t as good as it needed to be. That’s not a great thing for a unit that thrives on ball pressure.
“We also hit the panic button way too early,” Goedde said. “Our guys were taking some bad shots with about four or five minutes to go in the game.”
That said, La Salle did keep charging forward. Riley Haubner scored 10 of his 20 points in the last five minutes as the Lancers got as close as 58-54 with 17.2 seconds remaining.
The Thunderhawks just kept making free throws. They were 14 of 16 from the line in the fourth period, 21 of 24 overall, and Cox was perfect on his eight attempts.
“Sometimes you talk about toughness being physical, but you’ve got to have that mental toughness with free throws,” Adkins said. “The game’s on the line, you know what’s at stake, and our guys stepped up calmly and knocked ’em down.”
“Our guys fought. They’re just a little bit better than us right now,” Goedde said. “We’ll take our lumps and move on.”
Cox was 8 of 16 from the floor and sank 2 of 3 shots from beyond the arc. He sat out more than five minutes in the second quarter after picking up his second foul, yet East still led 24-23 at the break.
“Our team … they got me in positions that I could score,” Cox said. “I wanted to do everything I could to help them win the game. We’ve been practicing all week finishing out games, being tough, and that’s how we executed our game plan.”
Wieland and Mangold combined for 12 points in the final period. Jalen Peck had 4 points, three rebounds, four assists and two steals for the Thunderhawks, who also won sectional championships in 2011 and 2016.
“I’m proud of the preparation by our guys getting ready for our tournament games,” Adkins said. “Our scout team was tremendous to help get these guys prepared to compete tonight. It truly was a win 1 through 15.
“I love this team and I’ve said that from Day 1, even when we were 4-5. I love the camaraderie. I love how they compete in practice. They have been an absolute pleasure to coach this year. I know they’ll prepare like champions to get ready for Princeton.”
Kodyn Lambert and Henry Louden scored 9 and 8 points, respectively, for the Lancers. Haubner had eight rebounds and four assists, and Louden added eight boards.
“It was enjoyable to coach this group all year long because everybody thought we were going to just win six games and we made it to the sectional finals,” Goedde said. “The guys in the locker room believed that we would get here. The guys trusted what was going on all year. They believed in what we were selling.”
He’s a 1991 La Salle graduate and a longtime assistant coach for the Lancers. This was his first season as head coach.
“This is home. This is where I belong,” Goedde said. “I literally haven’t missed a game since I’ve been 3 years old. I get to coach after guys like Bill Cady, Hep Cronin and Dan Fleming. We’ve got the greatest kids, families and community at La Salle, and I’ve loved every minute of it.
“The other thing is I get to share it with my kids now … they’re gym rats. It’s just such a blessing. Some people want to get a job in college. This is the only job I want. There’s no other place I would want to be.”
La Salle 9-14-12-19—54
Lakota East 13-11-13-23—60
LA SALLE (15-10): Riley Haubner 4 11 20, Quinn Ealy 1 0 2, Henry Louden 4 0 8, Derek Eddings 2 0 5, Deon Campbell 2 0 5, Kodyn Lambert 4 0 9, Nathan Vogelpohl 2 0 5. Totals: 19-11-54
LAKOTA EAST (16-8): Jackson See 1 2 5, Alex Mangold 3 1 8, Bash Wieland 3 4 11, Jarrett Cox 8 8 26, Jalen Peck 1 2 4, Nate Johnson 1 1 3, Will Johnston 0 3 3. Totals: 17-21-60
3-pointers: LAS 5 (Lambert, Vogelpohl, Haubner, Eddings, Campbell), LE 5 (Cox 2, Wieland, Mangold, See)