CROZET — With 13.9 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and the score tied at 37, Western Albemarle looked to senior leader Tommy Mangrum to make a play on offense.
He didn’t disappoint.
The 6-foot-4 forward hit the game-winning shot on a fadeaway jumper from the top of the key as time expired to give the Warriors a 39-37 victory over Liberty Christian in the the Region 3C championship game.
“In my mind, I was just like we needed to get a good shot up from somebody,” Mangrum said. “The ball was in my hands with five seconds left, and I was like, ‘I need to get a shot up or else we’re going to go into overtime.’ I tried to create as much space as I could and try to get a shot up, and I was lucky enough to get it up and it went in.”
The athletic shot came in a game that was dominated by defense.
The Bulldogs (21-6) jumped out to an early 6-0 advantage to start the game, but Western’s defense quickly established its footing, and back-to-back scores by Henry Sullivan seemed to settle the Warriors. The sophomore added another score prior to the buzzer sounding on an offensive rebound to finish with six of his team-high 13 points in the opening quarter.
Sullivan and senior guard Riley Prichard scored 10 points in the second quarter and helped Western (22-6) extend the lead to 22-14 halfway through the second. The Bulldogs responded by closing the opening half on 10-3 run to narrow the margin to 25-24 at intermission.
Four different players from LCA scored during the stretch, but the Bulldogs weren’t able to continue the offensive momentum when the second half began. Western’s defense held LCA to just a single field goal in the third quarter, but the Warriors, with their own offensive woes, couldn’t create separation.
“I told some of these guys after I scouted them that their 1, 2 and 3 could probably play for a lot of Division III teams the way they shoot the ball,” Western Albemarle coach Darren Maynard said. “We had one little spot right at the end of the second quarter where we gave them a few things, but other than that, I thought we were on the job.
“We had a certain way that we wanted to play them and stick with their shooters and a little technique that we use. We did a great job of that, and then we did a great job in our zone defense, too, of getting after shooters.”
LCA got a 3-pointer from Rynning Bohrnstedt (six points) to take the lead with a little more than two minutes to play. The shot gave the Bulldogs their first lead since the opening minutes of the game and set up the intense final string of events.
Jalen Leftwich led the Bulldogs with 13 points to go with four assists and four rebounds. Connor Hartless added 11 points, seven rebounds and four steals.
“It was a very physical game and LCA is a great team,” Mangrum said. “They have a very, very good offense, so we knew coming in that we had to buckle down on defense and play our best defense we played all year. We tried to play strong, physical and just make them turn the ball over and miss shots. We made just enough plays to pull out the win.”
Prichard finished with 11 points and four rebounds, while Sullivan, who hit the game winner in the regional semifinals against Spotswood, added five boards to go with his 13 points. Mangrum finished with 10 points, four rebounds and three steals to go with the biggest shot of the night.
Both teams will have a break before competing in the Class 3 state tournament, which begin with the quarterfinals March 6. Game times have not yet been set. LCA will head to Roanoke for the quarterfinals and plays the winner of the Region 3D championship game between Cave Spring (24-2) and Northside (19-7), which is set for today. Western Albemarle will play the loser.