Hillgrove knocked off Lambert 73-59 on Saturday to advance to the quarterfinals of the class AAAAAA state tournament.
The Hawks came out of the gates on a 13-0 run. Their lead got to as much as 25 halfway through the third quarter, and they took a 47-27 lead into the fourth. But Lambert never stopped fighting.
“We got off to a slow start,” Lambert senior Patrick Noble said. “But as the game went on, we started picking it up. We just couldn’t recover from the slow start, but we never quit, everyone stayed positive, and we tried to go out with a bang.”
And go out with a bang they did. Lambert (24-6) forced eight turnovers in the fourth quarter and outscored Hillgrove 32-26 in the quarter. The Longhorns were 6-of-13 on threes in the fourth, after going 3-of-15 in the first three quarters. They got the deficit down to 14 with a few minutes left, but that was as close as it got.
“I thought we played extremely hard,” Lambert head coach Scott Bracco said. “We faced a really good team, they shot the ball really well, we just came up on the short end of the stick. We turned them over a lot in the fourth quarter but we just didn’t capitalize on the turnovers.”
Connor Mannion scored 13 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter. He was 8-of-11 from the field and also grabbed nine rebounds. Noble finished with 11 points.
“We started out slow and we just didn’t play as well as we expected,” Mannion said. “They had some good guards. I think they made it to the Elite Eight last year. They’re a good team.”
Lambert was missing three of their starters due to injury and illness but Bracco didn’t want to make excuses for his team.
“Any time we miss anyone, it can make an impact on your team,” Bracco said. “But we never made excuses, we just had players step up, and that’s what this team is all about. It’s a complete basketball team. We win with 15 and we lose with 15.”
Lambert had a tough time slowing down Collin Sexton, as he led Hillgrove with 18 points. Antonio Wade also added 11 points and 7 assists.
Despite the loss, Lambert’s season was one to remember. The Longhorns won their first region title, and their 24 wins were the most in school history.
“We had a heck of a season,” Noble said. “We had three players go out with injuries and sickness but we never quit. We still accomplished one of our goals by winning a region championship. We had people step up, myself included that had to step into a bigger role. Overall, it was still one of the best seasons in Lambert history.”
“It was a great season,” Mannion said. “I mean it was the best season so far in Lambert history, so we’re looking forward to another great season next year and even better.”