Lakota East’s Nate Johnson (34) keeps a close eye on Hamilton’s Jaylen Robinson (4) during Tuesday night’s game at the Hamilton Athletic Center. Visiting East won 47-40 to capture the outright Greater Miami Conference championship. RICK CASSANO/STAFF

Why Lakota East’s league basketball title is ‘super special’ this time around

HAMILTON — So much for sharing.

Lakota East High School’s boys basketball team secured the outright Greater Miami Conference championship Tuesday night by avenging its only defeat in GMC play, defeating Hamilton 47-40 at the Hamilton Athletic Center.

It’s the Thunderhawks’ first conference title since 2014-15 and their first outright crown since 2010-11.

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“I’ve never done it before … this just feels great to celebrate with my teammates that we’re the best in the league,” said Bash Wieland, one of seven seniors on East’s roster. “We had to get some revenge. They kicked our butt at our place, so we were super excited for this game. We’ve still got a lot of work to do, but we’re going to enjoy it while we can.”

“It’s super special,” classmate Grant Spicer added. “Everything we’ve been through … we’ve stuck together through it all. It’s just really fun, really special, a great group of guys to be around. Guys come to practice and kill it every single day, and it just makes it fun.”

The Thunderhawks were voted first in the preseason GMC coaches poll, so grabbing the championship isn’t necessarily a surprise.

Yet East coach Clint Adkins has had to deal with a short-handed roster all year. Kyrell Metts is missing the season because of a football injury and Alex Mangold broke his leg a month ago, adding a significant degree of difficulty to the Thunderhawks’ title run.

Lakota East High School senior Bash Wieland talks about Tuesday night’s 47-40 victory over Hamilton at the Hamilton Athletic Center.

“Honestly, I think that makes it even more special, the fact that these guys have battled through everything,” Adkins said. “Last year we lost a heartbreaker in the districts, and these guys have been working their butts off since April to get back to win a GMC championship. Now they get a chance to reap some of those benefits.”

Adkins recalled the last East squad to win an outright championship, mentioning names like Michael Boyd, Jalen Goodwin, R.J. Leppert and Cameron Lee.

“That was a really good team,” Adkins said. “It was a fun team to watch, as is this team.”

The Thunderhawks are 16-5 overall and 14-1 in the GMC heading into Friday’s regular-season finale against visiting Sycamore. It will be Senior Night for East.

The Lakota East Thunderhawks pose for a photo Tuesday night after winning the outright Greater Miami Conference championship with a 47-40 triumph over Hamilton at the Hamilton Athletic Center. PHOTO COURTESY OF LAKOTA EAST ATHLETICS

Wieland scored 17 points, Will Johnston had 10 and Spicer added nine against Hamilton, which handed the Thunderhawks a 65-62 loss on Jan. 11.

Round 2 didn’t go nearly as well for Big Blue (12-9, 8-7), who were in a 32-32 deadlock with under five minutes left, then got outscored 15-8 the rest of the way.

“The first meeting, we didn’t really play defense very well,” Wieland said. “In the second game, I felt like we were in the gaps well. We prevented them from doing what they wanted to do.”

Jaylen Robinson (12) and Trey Robinson (11) were the top scorers for Hamilton. D’Marco Howard collected 21 points in the first matchup, but managed just two Tuesday.

Lakota East High School sophomore Nate Johnson drives to the basket for a dunk in the fourth quarter of Tuesday night’s 47-40 win over Hamilton at the Hamilton Athletic Center.

“Our defensive effort was fantastic tonight,” Adkins said. “When you can hold Jaylen and D’Marco to 14 points, it doesn’t get any better than that. The plan was just to keep them in front of us and make them shoot jump shots.

“If you watched our game against D’Marco the last time, he just shredded us getting to the rim. We definitely packed it in a little bit more tonight. In my opinion, they’re probably the most explosive offensive team in the league.”

Big Blue shot 51.6 percent from the floor. They didn’t commit a lot of turnovers (11), but had five in the fourth period. And the hosts got dominated on the glass 26-15. East grabbed 10 offensive rebounds — Hamilton hauled in one.

“They killed us on the boards,” HHS coach Kevin Higgins said. “They just outworked us. That was the difference in the game. We really struggled rebounding the ball. That’s kind of a recurring theme with us, and they made enough plays down the stretch. That’s why they’re GMC champs. That’s what those teams do.”

In listing keys to victory coming into Tuesday’s affair, Adkins said No. 1 was “don’t let them bully you on the offensive glass.”

“Our blockouts were great all night, probably the best they’ve been all season,” he added.

Lakota East High School senior Grant Spicer talks about Tuesday night’s 47-40 victory over Hamilton at the Hamilton Athletic Center.

Spicer said the Thunderhawks’ passing skills lead to good rebounding position a lot of the time. Wieland (seven), Nate Johnson (six) and Spicer (five) outboarded Hamilton by themselves.

Big Blue honored their three seniors (Jaylen Robinson, Payton Pennington, Howard) during a pregame Senior Night ceremony. Pennington contributed six points and four assists.

“We played very slow in the first half,” Higgins said. “We were better in the second half, and we gave ourselves chances to win. We just didn’t take advantage of the opportunities.”

Adkins said his goal every year is to make it to the Division I district finals. Last year, East lost to Princeton 53-51 at that level.

“I’m just so ecstatic and proud of these guys,” Adkins said. “We’re happy with the GMC championship. Now it’s time to turn our focus to the tournament.”

Hamilton will close the regular season Friday at Lakota West.

Lakota East 13-11-6-17—47

Hamilton 8-9-12-11—40

LAKOTA EAST (16-5, 14-1 GMC): Nick Holtman 1 0 2; Kaden Fuhrmann 0 4 4; Bash Wieland 8 1 17; Will Johnston 2 5 10; Grant Spicer 4 1 9; Nate Johnson 2 1 5. Totals: 17-12-47

HAMILTON (12-9, 8-7 GMC): Payton Pennington 2 0 6; Trey Robinson 5 1 11; Jaylen Robinson 4 1 12; D’Marco Howard 1 0 2; Kurtis Reid 2 0 4; Ke’Von Burnett 2 0 5. Totals: 16-2-40

3-pointers: L 1 (Johnston), H 6 (J. Robinson 3, Pennington 2, Burnett)

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