By MIKE HUTCHENS
Messenger Sports Editor
The regular season proved meaningless where Union City and Lake County were concerned.
Beaten convincingly by 27 and 15 points in two earlier meetings, LC won the only game that mattered when it eliminated the fifth-ranked Golden Tornadoes 60-57 in the Region 7A semifinals Monday night at Humboldt High School.
The loss ended UC’s season with a 22-8 mark.
Lake County, which had to forfeit seven regular season games — including four wins — for using an ineligible player, will carry a 7-22 mark into the regional championship game against Humboldt Thursday at 7 p.m. The Vikings beat South Fulton 52-42 in Monday’s second semi.
Both LC and H’boldt will then move on to the Class 1A sectionals next Monday, regardless of their Thursday outcome.
Having won its two previous games with the Falcons with relative ease, Union City appeared to be on its way to another such triumph Monday when it jumped out to a 17-7 lead with the game barely five minute old.
Jamie Hyde knocked down a pair of 3-pointers and scored 10 in all to ignite the Twisters’ early surge.
The UC offense went south after that, though, while Lake County became the aggressor behind the play of standout guard Zay Coleman, who led all scorers with 30 points and Dominique Kimble, who came off the bench to hit four 3-pointers and score 14 in all.
“I thought when we got up 17-7 we played tight and not with the reckless abandon that we did in the fourth quarter to get back into the game,” Twister head coach Shane Sisco said. “We started settling for shooting 3-pointers instead of continuing to attack the basket, and then it’s tough to play from behind against them because of how difficult it is to defend Coleman in the open floor.
“I don’t know if the two earlier games had anything to do with it or not. I know they’ve played very well in elimination games in the postseason. They went to Greenfield as a seven-seed and beat the No. 2 team in our district in a do-or-die game, and I thought they played a different level tonight than they have in some other, less meaningful games.”
The Falcons used a 25-7 burst to overtake UC and led by as much as 32-24 just before the intermission when Coleman scored the last of his 16 points.
UC twice trailed by as many as 12 points in the third quarter — a period in which they made just two field goals in eight minutes. The second of Kimble’s two treys at the 1:01 mark made it 48-36 in favor of Lake County.
Despite never finding a high gear offensively, the Tornadoes slowly crept back down the stretch and to within 57-56 with 53 seconds left after Donte Simpson converted a steal into two free throws. LaMonte Dickerson had sank four straight free throws in the surge that got Union City back in the game, and both Hyde and Khiry Lewis made layups to also contribute to the comeback.
The Twisters then had a chance to go ahead when Raheem Flowers missed a pair of foul shots with 46 seconds showing, but Malik Stockdale was stripped of possession under heavy pressure as he drove into the lane with around 30 second to go. Coleman was fouled on the ensuing possession and converted two charities to make it 59-56 at the 22-second mark.
Dickerson was off on a game-tying attempt from beyond the arc and the Tornadoes then failed on a couple of follow-up chances before Flowers was again fouled and sent to the line with 5.2 ticks showing.
Flowers once more missed both tosses and Simpson was quickly fouled after UC inbounded the ball. He missed the first of two chances, but made the second to cut the deficit to 59-57 with still :02.4 left.
Coleman was quickly fouled and made one of two charities to account for the final score with Dickerson’s halfcourt heave at the buzzer not close.
“It’s getting old ... giving this same speech for the fourth year in a row of getting beat in the regional semifinals,” Sisco added. “We just didn’t play our best when we needed to.”
The coach did laud seniors Dickerson and Lewis for their intensity and toughness in their final outing in a UCHS uniform.
Hyde led the Tornadoes with 14 points, while Simpson added 12 and both Dickerson and Lewis pitched in with 11.
Union City has seen its season end in the regional semifinal round four of the last five seasons, with a sectional round loss once as well, since winning the school’s fifth state championship in the undefeated 2007-08 campaign.
The Twisters have won 99 games in that span and also reached the 20-win mark for the 10th time in the last 12 years.
Lake County, meanwhile, has at least two more games remaining and is still alive for its third consecutive Class A state tournament berth.
The Falcons won a state championship in 2011 and lost in the semifinals last season.
Sports editor Mike Hutchens can be contacted by email at email@example.com.
Published in The Messenger 2.26.13