ATLANTA — The Lakeview Academy boys basketball team built a reputation this season for overcoming a bevy of obstacles.
Whether it was sickness, injury or anything else, the Lions always found a way. But one last hurdle presented by Holy Innocents’ in a second-round playoff game Thursday, Feb. 22, was insurmountable.
Despite a last-ditch, fourth-quarter rally by the ninth-seeded Lions in the final five minutes, No. 8 seed Holy Innocents’ still managed to hold on for a 73-66 win here at Holy Innocents Episcopal School.
Trailing by as much as 21 inside the five-minute mark of the final period, Lakeview Academy exploded on a 21-7 scoring rampage fronted by brothers Adam and Drew Cottrell. The pair combined for 15 points in that span, including two 3-pointers from Adam Cottrell.
The Lakeview Academy faithful erupted with every made basket. An Evan Pitts three-point play and Blake McIntyre trey aided the surge, and one last Drew Cottrell 3-pointer — his third of the quarter and fourth of the night — made it a five-point game inside 25 seconds.
But that was all Lakeview Academy could manage. The Golden Bears (17-9) ended the flurry from the charity stripe, sinking 3 of their final 4 free-throw attempts to secure a spot in the state quarterfinals next week.
“This group has been resilient all year,” Lakeview Academy coach Todd Cottrell said. “The last five minutes of the game was a great indication of their character. ... It just showed what these guys are made of.”
Holy Innocents’ will face No. 1 seed Christian Heritage, which topped 16th-seeded Mount Vernon, 52-50, on Feb. 27 or Feb. 28.
As for Lakeview Academy, the season ends for Todd Cottrell and his senior-laden squad of Lions (21-8).
“That’s basketball sometimes. (It’s a) disappointing way to end the season with a great group of kids,” the coach said.
A turnover-marred third period was the turning point in a contest that was back-and-forth through intermission. The Lions led 27-26 at the half and went up by seven to start the third quarter before Holy Innocents’ made its run. One turnover turned into eight, and the Golden Bears changed gears as leading scorer Josh Smith (22 points) accounted for 12 points, a pair of steals and an assist during a 25-0 surge that lasted through the first three minutes of the fourth quarter.
The Golden Bears’ lead grew to 53-35 before a Drew Cottrell trey ended the onslaught.
“I thought we could weather it, (but we) just fell too far behind,” Todd Cottrell said. “Our turnovers made some easy baskets for them. ... That kind of got them going, and we couldn’t make one. ... That kind of was the difference there.”
For the game, the Lions shot less than 30 percent (8 of 30) from outside the arc and couldn’t get much from inside the paint.
“We didn’t shoot exceptionally well tonight,” Todd Cottrell said. “When we did get the ball inside, (Holy Innocents’) did a great job of collapsing our guys, and we couldn’t get into a rhythm. Credit to them for that.”
The Golden Bears also got a pair of blocks and three steals from Smith, while two other scorers in Matthew Meadows (13 points) and Justin Wilson (12 points) cracked double-figures.
In his last playoff game, senior Drew Cottrell finished with 24 points and 10 rebounds for a double-double, followed by younger brother Adam with 14. Blake McIntyre chipped in 11 points with seven assists, while Pitts had 10 points for Lakeview Academy.
Todd Cottrell said farewell to the school’s winningest senior class of six that featured Jack Blackburn, Alec Bornhorst, Drew Cottrell, Evan Pitts, Alex Partin and Noah Lindler. Those seniors won 88 games together and reached the playoffs in each of their four years with the program.
Last season’s state semifinal appearance was the first in program history.
Drew Cottrell finished his varsity career as a two-time Region 8-A Player of the Year with more than 1,000 points scored.
“It’s been a great run for the seniors,” the fifth-year Lions coach said. “Special kids, special group. They accomplished great things collectively for our group, which I’m proud of. Once the hurt is over for them, they can look back and be pretty proud of what they’ve accomplished in the last four years.”
The Lions overcame a slew of setbacks that included injuries to a pair of starters, though others filled the void on the way to capping the regular season as a region unbeaten for the third consecutive year. And despite seeing an impressive 52-game win streak against region opponents snapped earlier this month, the Lions still continued on to the state tournament, during which they defeated Landmark Christian in the opening round.
“It’s bittersweet, because this is a fun group to coach,” Todd Cottrell said. “I think our best basketball is (still) ahead of us.”