Boys basketball: Beavercreek falls in final seconds; Springboro loses to Moeller

Beavercreek sophomore Gabe Phillips took a deep breath — maybe two — at the free-throw line with 20 seconds left and his team down a point to Lakota East in a Division I district final at Cintas Center. He had just been fouled on a push from behind while trying to do something at 6-foot-7 he does well — grab an offensive rebound.

But the free-throw line? Phillips shot 43.2% from there during the regular season.

“It was definitely the biggest moment so far of my high school career,” he said. “I just knew I needed to stay calm and not worry about all of the atmosphere around me.”

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Phillips made them both for a one-point lead, and the Beavers just needed a stop. They forced a difficult 3-point shot, but East’s 6-foot-7 senior Alex Mangold was in the right spot at the right time. He grabbed the airball and tried to score but was fouled with 1.6 seconds left. Mangold made both free throws to give East the lead back.

Beavercreek inbounded to Chris Herbort up at midcourt. He was able to turn to his right and heave a shot that bounced off the rim, and the Beavers lost 33-32.

“It looked on target and I was kind of excited,” Beavercreek’s Yousef Saleh said. “But it fell a little short. It is what it is.”

Beavercreek coach Steve Pittman, in his first season at his alma mater, rode the emotions of the final minute and appreciated what Phillips and Mangold did.

“For Gabe to make those two to put us in position was incredible,” Pittman said. “It was a good feeling.”

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His team had defended East’s deliberate offense well, and forced the difficult shot that landed in Mangold’s hands.

“All year long our Achilles’ heel has been offensive rebounds, and we were one box out from advancing,” Pittman said.

Mangold broke his leg in the 10th game last year and sat in the stands while his team won a district title. Pittman, who coached in the Greater Miami Conference last year at Middletown, was familiar with Mangold’s story.

“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.”

Finding open shots was difficult for both teams. Nate Johnson for East (24-2) and Saleh for Beavercreek were able to create enough shots for themselves to lead their teams. Johnson scored 16 and Saleh 15.

“He’s basically carried us our last seven or eight games,” Pittman said of Saleh.

The Beavers rebounded from an 8-15 season last year with only two senior starters (Saleh and Herbort), two sophomores and a junior. It had been 20 years since they played in a district final.

“As a team, obviously, we expected to be here,” Phillips said. “And we knew that all the way going through the season that we envisioned ourselves here. I don’t think the whole basketball community thought we could make it this far, so it was a big step for us as a team and a program.”

Cincinnati Moeller 65, Springboro 25: The Panthers found out all about the Moeller dynasty. The Crusaders turned an 11-11 game late in the first quarter into a 44-11 lead midway through the third quarter for their seventh straight district title. They are chasing a third straight state title and fourth straight trip to the final.

“They’re as advertised,” Springboro coach Kyle Youker said. “They are very, very good, got a lot of skilled players.”

Logan Duncomb led Moeller (25-1) with 19 points and Will McCracken had 17. Willieon Yates had nine points and Noah Moser eight for Springboro (13-12).

The Panthers, playing in their first district final in seven years, had won six of their past seven games to get to a winning record. They had several close losses, including Centerville and Trotwood, and have improved in each of Youker’s three seasons.

“These kids just really believed,” he said. “And they played really, really hard for me all year.”

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