Last second heroics give Lions 3A-3 Regional championship
Just like the little engine that could, the undersized Manila Lions showed the grit and determination of a champion, bringing home the 3A Region 3 Tournament title with their second heart stopping win in as many days, downing Valley Springs 56-54 Saturday night before a raucous crowd in the Lions' Den.
The Lions trailed 54-50 with just 33 ticks left on the clock, but sophomore Matthew May drew a Tiger foul and sank both free throws to close the gap to 54-52 with 23 seconds remaining. Valley Springs committed a turnover on their next possession, giving the ball back to the Lions. A missed shot was pulled down by Manila's Jake Helton who was fouled, sending the junior to the free throw line with 15 seconds to go. Helton sank both pressure-packed foul shots to tie the game 54-all.
Following a Valley Springs timeout, the Tigers attempted to inbound the ball with 10 seconds to go, but Caleb Reinhart anticipated the inbounds pass, deflecting the ball off Valley Springs guard Dalton Hogue's leg, giving possession to the Lions with nine seconds remaining.
Manila inbounded to Reinhart, who drove inside the foul line before passing off to teammate Kyle Joyner, who attempted a shot from the baseline before being fouled with just 2.7 seconds left in the game. Joyner calmly dropped in both foul shots, giving the Lions a two point edge. The Tigers had one last chance to pull out the victory, but Hogue's desperation shot banged off the backboard, setting off a wild celebration by the Manila faithful at mid court.
"It was just unbelievable," said Lion Coach Lee Wimberley of his team's last second victory. "We made our free throws when we had to, and Caleb came up with the play of the game, bouncing the ball off Valley Springs to give us possession. We made four free throws in the last few seconds just like we did the night before. There's no question Kyle was fouled. This championship really means a lot to me. It's almost like we were snake bit the last couple of years with the snow and the injury to Scott Eubanks. But this year things seemed to go our way. It's these seniors second regional title in three years. They are a special group. I am very proud of them," said an emotional Wimberley.
Valley Springs, sparked by Hogue, led 12-10 after the first break, but the Lions hung close, thanks to an 8-8 performance from the foul line. Manila drew even, 15-15, at the 5:03 mark of the second stanza on a Matthew May three pointer, but the Tigers outscored the Lions 7-5 the rest of the period to take a 22-20 halftime edge.
The Tigers threatened to pull away from the Lions, building their lead to 29-20 with 3:15 left in the third quarter. But three pointers by Thomas Davis and May, wrapped around a driving scoop shot from Reinhart, along with a three point play by Helton, fueled an 11-4 Lion run, closing the gap to 34-31 entering the final frame.
Manila got even with 6:51 left in the game on a three point play by Reinhart, before taking the lead, 43-40, with another Davis triple at the 5:42 mark. The Tigers battled right back, getting a three point bomb from Hogue to even things up once again with 4:12 remaining.
After a Reinhart three pointer put Manila up by one at the 3:00 mark, Valley Springs put together a 9-4 run to take a four point advantage, before the Lions charged back in the final two minutes to capture the championship.
Reinhart led the Lions with 18 points, followed by May who pitched in 14. Joyner and Helton scored eight points apiece. Davis tallied six while Seth Grissom chipped in two points. Manila drilled 18-22 free throw attempts, drained five three pointers while committing only eight turnovers on the evening.
Hogue scored a game high 19 points to lead Valley Springs while Cody Shearer added 13. The Tigers hit 12-18 foul shots and made two triples.
Manila advanced to the finals, squeaking out a nail-biting 37-36 victory over Flippin in Friday night's semifinals. Reinhart's two free throws with five seconds left gave the Lions the win.
Flippin led 10-8 after the first quarter before the Lions rallied to draw even at 17-all at the half. The Bobcats took a 27-25 edge into the final period of play.
Davis and May led Manila with 11 points apiece. Reinhart scored nine, Joyner had three, Grissom tallied two while Helton chipped in one point. Manila drained 15-21 free throws and dropped in four treys, three by Davis.
Dean Smyser led the Bobcats with a game high 18 points while Spencer Politte added 11. Flippin finished 3-7 at the line and made one trey.
Manila punched its ticket to the state tournament, mercy ruling Melbourne 60-30 Wednesday night. The Lions led from start to finish, building a 14-7 advantage after the first quarter. Reinhart and Bradey Woodall closed out the first stanza, nailing back to back three pointers. Woodall drained two more treys in the second quarter as the Lions built their advantage to 30-15 at the half. Manila outscored Melbourne 16-7 in the third period to take a 46-22 lead into the final frame.
Reinhart led the Lions with 16 points while Woodall chipped in 14 more. Davis scored nine, Helton had six, May tallied five, Joyner contributed four, Joel Burrow netted three while Erik Navarro added two. Dylon Carruth pitched in one point. Manila connected on 17-33 charity tosses and buried nine three pointers.
Jay Chaney led the Bearkatz with 12 points.
Manila will open 3A State Tournament play Tuesday afternoon at Cossatot River High School in Wickes. Tipoff is set for 5:30.
Regional final post game coverage:
Following Manila's thrilling 56-54 victory over Valley Springs to secure the 3A Region 3 Tournament Championship, several Lions had this to say:
"We were just trying to make some history. No one had done what we were trying to do. I knew I had to make those two free throws and get back on defense and get a stop," said senior forward Kyle Joyner, who nailed the game winning free throws with 2.7 seconds showing on the clock.
Manila senior guard Caleb Reinhart explained his game changing defensive play against Valley Springs in the closing seconds. "I saw the ball. I knew it was coming to Hogue. It was close to the five second count so I knew he had to throw the ball inbounds. I kind of dove after the ball and hit it off his leg and it was our ball. When I saw the official point our direction, it was just craziness," exclaimed Reinhart.
"Coach always tells us we may be outsized, but you just have to work your hardest and get the ball," said junior post Jake Helton. "It came down to it where I had to shoot free throws. I was a little worried at the end, but I found my confidence and put them in. This was a big game for us and I am proud to be a Lion. Walking up to hit the free throws, I was just thinking my team loves me and I've just got to knock them down," added Helton.
"It's not possible for me to be prouder of a team than I am this one," said Lion Coach Lee Wimberley. "The crowd tonight was incredible. They were electric. Every play, their crowd was good, our crowd was better. It was one of the most fun games I've ever been a part of in high school basketball. Our students were excellent. That's what I like about small schools. At Manila, it's personal. Everyone knows each other and it means so much to everybody, adults, students, players, former athletes, teachers, everyone in the community. That's why I like being at a school this size. It's awesome. I can't put words to what I feel about this group."