Titans come up short against Manual in regional title game
The No. 3 Coal Ridge Titans found themselves with three good looks at the rim with under 20 seconds left in regulation during Saturday’s regional championship game against the No. 14 Manual Thunderbolts. But the Titans couldn’t find the bottom of the net on all three attempts, stopping a terrific season in its tracks with a heartbreaking 80-77 loss to the Thunderbolts in New Castle.
Coal Ridge’s loss marks the second year in a row the Titans dropped a close decision in a thrilling regional championship game at home.
“There’s a lot of emotion right now in that locker room,” Coal Ridge Head Coach Paul Harvey said following the loss. “But I think what hurts the most right now, aside from the loss itself, is that we didn’t capitalize on our free throws. We work on those a lot; it’s a point of emphasis for us in practice, and we just didn’t capitalize. You can look at the last possession as what did us in today, but we missed a lot of free throws all game long.”
Friday night, the Titans went just 12 for 22 from the free throw line in a four-point win over Frontier Academy. Fortunately for the Titans, the free throw shooting woes didn’t hurt them that night, but it caught up with them Saturday against a terrific Manual squad, as the Titans went just 10 for 22 against the Thunderbolts, who went 15 for 22 on the day.
Prior to the thrilling finish, it looked as though Manual was going to run away from the Titans, as standout junior Jaedon Bowles caught fire from the field quickly, helping the Thunderbolts race out to a 26-21 lead after one exciting quarter of play.
Coal Ridge jumped out to a 4-0 lead early in the game, thanks to a reverse layup from senior center Connor Detlefsen following the opening-tip win for the Titans, before senior point guard Brandon Herrera hit a jumper in the lane. Manual came right back to make it a 5-4 game, but Herrera made it a four-point game again, drilling a 3-pointer with a hand in his face after junior forward Payton White grabbed the offensive rebound and kicked it out to Herrera beyond the arc.
Manual responded to Herrera’s 3-pointer by going on a 6-0 run as Bowles got a putback shot to fall, before junior Davion Davis and senior Masiah Hudson hit shots in transition to give the Thunderbolts a 10-8 lead. White got into the 3-point party for the Titans by canning a shot from the left corner to put Coal Ridge back in front, opening up the track meet on the court between two high-powered, athletic teams.
Following a 3-pointer from Manual sophomore guard Jaden Stofel that tied the game at 15-15, Manual closed the first quarter on an 11-6 run as Bowles drilled two 3-pointers and a runner to give the Thunderbolts a 26-21 lead after a fast-paced first quarter of action.
The Thunderbolts continued to pour it on in the second quarter, going on an 8-0 run midway through the quarter to stretch their lead to 38-24, thanks to a jumper and a 3-pointer from Bowles and three free throws from Davis. Coal Ridge didn’t back down, though, as junior center Kevin DiMarco stepped outside the 3-point line and coolly splashed home a 3-pointer to make it a 38-27 game.
Coal Ridge continued to battle down the stretch in the first half as White and Herrera hit layups through contact, but the Titans couldn’t slow down Bowles and Davis. A jumper from Davis gave the Thunderbolts a 43-31 lead, but junior guard Jan Hernandez, who played the hero Friday night against Frontier Academy, nailed a 3-pointer from around 35 feet right at the halftime buzzer, sending the two teams into the half with Manual holding a 43-34 lead.
Coming out of the break, Coal Ridge seemed to build off of Hernandez’s triple right before the half, as the Titans came out and lit the net on fire. Herrera drilled back-to-back 3-pointers to pull Coal Ridge to within five points at 45-40, but Manual continued to run the pick-and-roll, finding junior Dontre Thompson on the right block for open layups and keeping the Titans at bay.
Two straight putback shots by DiMarco sandwiched a putback from Bowles as the Titans closed to within eight points at 53-45 late in the quarter, but Bowles was too much.
The junior, who scored 50 points in December against Pinnacle in a game at the Pepsi Center, splashed home another 3-pointer, hit a layup through contact and sank two free throws. This helped the Thunderbolts hold off a late third-quarter 3-point barrage from the Titans as White and junior Jesus Camunez drilled triples to pull the Titans to within 63-54 heading into the final quarter of play.
Hoping to rekindle some fourth-quarter magic from Friday night’s game against Frontier Academy, the Titans came out fast and loose in the final quarter of play, clawing back from an 11-point deficit in the final quarter of play to take a 76-75 lead late on a 3-pointer from Hernandez that sent the Titans’ home gym into a frenzy.
“We finally started shooting well in our own gym,” Harvey said. “The guys left everything on the floor. We told them to do that and not have anything left, any regrets. We challenged them at halftime and they responded.”
Prior to Hernandez’s 3-pointer, White hit a 3-pointer from the right corner and Herrera hit two jumpers, but the Titans left a handful of points at the free throw line as DiMarco split a pair of free throws twice, while Detlefsen split a pair of free throws.
Following Hernandez’s 3-pointer that gave the Titans their first lead of the game since 19-18 late in the first quarter, Manual didn’t blink, turning to Bowles, who finished with 39 points on the day.
The junior rose up for an offensive rebound following a missed shot from Davis, corralled the rebound and got the putback shot to fall, drawing the foul. The junior completed the 3-point play to give the Thunderbolts a 78-76 lead with just under a minute to go in the game.
The Titans then missed a shot at the other end, leading them to foul Davis. The junior point guard sank both of his free throws for the Thunderbolts to make it an 80-76 game.
Detlefsen drew a foul at the other end with just over 20 seconds left in the game and went 1 for 2 at the line, giving the Thunderbolts the ball back. That’s when Camunez forced a turnover on Davis, giving the Titans the ball with 20.2 seconds left in the game, trailing by three points.
Off the inbounds play, the Thunderbolts took away any entry pass into the paint for the Titans, forcing Herrera to freelance as the clock ticked down. The senior guard rose up for a runner along the baseline, but the ball hit rim, bouncing out. Coal Ridge grabbed the rebound and found Camunez well behind the 3-point line, but the junior’s desperation heave missed.
Junior guard Jared Whitaker, off the bench for his hustle, tracked down the rebound and found Herrera behind the line for one final shot.
The final shot in the star point guard’s career at Coal Ridge hit back rim and bounced high, allowing the clock to run out and giving the Thunderbolts a thrilling 80-77 win over the Titans to advance to the Great Eight next week at University of Denver.
“I called a play, but then they [Manual] blew it up, because they denied where we wanted it to go,” Harvey said. “At that point, we fell back on what we do, which is play fast and get a good look. We got a couple good looks, but none of them fell.”
Bowles led the Thunderbolts with 39 points on the day, while Davis added 17 points. Thompson chipped in with 12 points, while Stofel added 8 points off the bench.
“Credit to Manual; that’s a heck of a team,” Harvey said. “[Bowles] is one of the best players I’ve seen in a long time; he’s pretty special.”
Herrera led the Titans with 19 points, while DiMarco and White added 15 and 14 points, respectively. Detlefesen and Hernandez chipped in with 12 and 11 points, while Camunez finished with 6 points.
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