Town Crier Sports Staff
For more than three quarters, it looked as though the Junior Lions would be going to the championship game of the 3A-3 District Tournament. But for the third time this year, Hughes fought their way past the Lions, ending Manila's season with a heartbreaking 52-50 loss Thursday night at Corning.
Manila fell behind 6-1 early but closed the quarter with a 15-3 run to take a 16-9 lead at the end of the first break.
The Lions built their lead to 11 points late in the second period, 30-19, thanks to a 7-9 performance from the free throw line wrapped around a three pointer by Tray Malone and a conventional three point play from Blake Wheeler. Jonathan Robinson hit a pair of free throws with 27 seconds to go before half, sending Manila into the dressing room leading 30-21.
The Lions kept their lead in double digits most of the third period, and led 37-26 at the 2:14 mark before Hughes outscored Manila 5-2 to close the quarter, cutting the deficit to 39-31 entering the final frame.
Hughes began their fourth quarter comeback, scoring the first five points before Manila broke the ice with a pair of Cody Webb free throws with 2:57 to go, pushing the Lion lead to 41-36. Chris Wilson drained a three pointer to chop the Lion lead to 41-39, but Manila answered with an offensive stickback from Garrett Scott, giving the Lions a 43-39 lead with 1:58 left.
The Blue Devils pulled to within one when Jerome Doolittle nailed Hughes' second straight three pointer, and took their first lead since early in the game at the 1:40 mark on a steal and lay-in by Jalen Smith. The Lions tied the game at 44-44 when Cody Webb hit 1-2 free throws at the 1:26 mark, but Hughes took the lead for good when Timothy Starkey hit 1-2 charity tosses at the 1:03 mark, putting the Blue Devils up 45-44.
A pair of costly Lion turnovers led to two straight Blue Devil buckets, pushing the Devil lead to 49-44 with 32 seconds remaining. The two teams traded free throws, giving Hughes a 50-45 lead with 14 seconds left, but Wheeler gave Manila one last chance, banking home a three pointer from 30-feet out, cutting the Hughes lead to 50-48 at the nine second mark.
Unable to steal the inbounds pass, Manila was forced to foul, sending Starkey back to the line. The Blue Devil guard calmly sank both ends of the double bonus, sealing the Lions fate while advancing to the championship round.
Wheeler led Manila with 14 points while Webb added 13. Malone and Scott scored eight points apiece while Zach Birmingham netted five and Dylan Hill added two. Manila shot a respectable 15-22 from the foul line while making three treys.
Danny Montgomery led Hughes with 11 points while Deangelo Doolittle added 10. The Blue Devils were 15-25 from the free throw line and hit five three pointers.
"I thought we played as well as we could for three and a half quarters," said Manila Coach John Deaton. "But I thought their pressure wore us down in the fourth quarter. We had some costly turnovers and had several chances to build on our lead in the third quarter and didn't take advantage of it. We let them hang around too long. Foul trouble hurt us late as well. Hughes really keyed on Blake (Wheeler) tonight but I thought we had some other players really step up. Cody Webb played well, Tray Malone and Garrett Scott both had good games and Zach Birmingham did a good job on the boards. I was really proud of the year we had. We finished 20-12. I told our kids before the game, no matter what happens, we have had a great year. We played well enough to win tonight, but things just didn't go our way in the end."
The Lions advanced to the semi-finals with a 55-44 win over host Corning Monday night. Blake Wheeler led all scorers with 21 points while Cody Webb chipped in 10 more to pace the Lion attack.
Tray Malone scored seven, Dylan Hill netted six, Tracey Reinhart and Garrett Scott tallied four points apiece while Jared Burks added three. The Lions hit 16-21 from the foul line and made three treys.
Zach Ballard and Caleb Catt paced Corning with 15 and 12 points respectively. The Bobcats were 9-15 from the charity stripe and hit five three pointers.
Manila held a 14-13 lead after the first quarter and went into the dressing room with a 30-23 halftime advantage. Manila took a 43-32 lead into the final frame.