A lot will be said of the big leads that Manhattan Christian held over Ennis in Monday night’s Western C Divisional challenge game at the Maroon Activities Center.
The Eagles scored the first 14 points of the game. They led by 11 at halftime and by 16 points in the third quarter.
But the difference in this contest was a defensive stop by senior Joey Lodine in the final seconds to secure the Eagles’ 59-57 win over the Mustangs and the berth to the Class C State Tournament that came with it.
Lodine set the pace by scoring the first three baskets of the game. He finished with a game-high 17 points but knew that his defensive play was equally as important as every ball he put into the basket.
“I’ve worked so hard for so many years, and to finally achieve a goal, it’s really big,” he said afterward. “My senior year, yeah, it’s really big.”
The Mustangs were just as impressive with their never-say-die approach to Monday’s contest.
They rallied from a 14-0 deficit to climb to within 6 points of the Eagles by the end of the first quarter.
Ennis completed the comeback in the second quarter, and Rob Smith gave the Mustangs a 23-22 lead with 5:43 to play.
Lodine put the Eagles back in front, starting what turned out to be an 18-6 run that gave Manhattan Christian a 40-29 halftime lead.
“We talked a lot about body language,” Manhattan Christian coach Jeff Bellach said of Ennis’s comeback. “You can’t let one swing get you down in the dumps, and I think we learned a lot about that. I thought that was the key, staying positive.
“I think the kids on the bench did a good job of keeping everybody up when they (Ennis) made the runs. We made enough plays to win, so we’ll take it.”
It wasn’t just one run by the Mustangs.
Manhattan Christian scored the first 5 points of the second half to take their biggest lead of the game, 45-29, but Ennis wasn’t finished.
The Mustangs unveiled a 19-3 run that tied the score at 48 by the end of the third quarter.
Tracer Croy contributed to the run with a pair of 3s, with Gavin McKitrick adding another. Ty Morgan, who had been held to 2 first-half points, scored twice from inside the paint, and Smith sank a field goal and a pair of free throws.
The run took some of the pressure off of Jake Knack, who led the Mustangs 16 points.
But again, the Eagles responded accordingly. They scored 8 straight points after a Morgan layup gave Ennis a 50-48 lead 30 seconds into the fourth quarter.
Parker Dyksterhouse tied the score at 50, and Matthew Amunrud hit a 3 to put Manhattan Christian back in front. Lodine then added another field goal for a 55-50 lead.
“We started out 14 points down and then clawed back,” Ennis coach Jared Smithson said. “And then we were down 11 at halftime and clawed back. We just couldn’t get over that hump.
“We had a 2-point lead, and they buried a 3 on us. It was a back-and-forth game.”
Baskets by Knack and McKitrick accounted for the Mustangs’ final comeback attempt, one which tied the score at 55 with 3:03 to play.
Amunrud hit a 3 from the top of the key to break the tie, give the Eagles the lead for good, and hand the game’s outcome to the defense.
Lodine’s big stop came against Ty Morgan, who missed a shot that could have put the Mustangs back in front. Lodine grabbed the rebound as well and scored the game’s final point from the free-throw line.
“They’re a great team,” Lodine said of the Mustangs. “They’re a really good team, but at some point, we got to the points where we were getting a little too relaxed and we got comfortable with a cushion.
“They battled back into it. They battled hard. You can’t relax, and we learned from that, so on to the next one.”