MICHIGAN CITY – Kyle Mangas exited the locker room late Saturday night as a Warsaw Tiger for the final time.
One of the greatest players ever to don the orange and black had his head held high.
And rightfully so.
Mangas capped a brilliant high school career by pouring every ounce of effort he could muster into the regional finale.
It just was not quite enough on this evening.
A red-hot shooting Merrillville team rallied in the final quarter to edge the Tigers 50-46 to win the Class 4-A Michigan City Regional crown.
The Pirates, who improved to 21-7 by beating Warsaw for the second time this season, advance to play No. 4 Fort Wayne North (26-2) in the North Semistate on March 18. North beat Carmel 52-49 in overtime Saturday night to win the Logansport Regional title. The semistate game will be played at either Lafayette Jefferson or Huntington North with the IHSAA to announce that on Sunday.
Merrillville, which won 53-48 at Warsaw on Feb. 11, claims the program’s eighth regional title and first since 2013.
Warsaw, which outlasted East Chicago Central 61-59 in double overtime earlier Saturday, led 38-34 entering the final frame.
The quick, athletic and well-coached Pirates scored the first eight points of the fourth quarter to take a 42-38 lead. Merrillville turned to a trapping, double-team defense on Mangas in the final frame to help turn the tide. Warsaw had three key turnovers in the first two minutes of the final period and did not score until a layup by Jaceb Burish with 4:17 to play.
The Tigers showed their mettle though. Warsaw rallied within 47-46 on a Mangas trey with 1:21 left. Johnny Bernard then hit two clutch free throws to give the Pirates a 49-46 lead with 46.3 seconds to play.
The Tigers took their final timeout with 30.5 seconds left in the game. Warsaw opted to run the clock, getting the ball to Mangas late. Merrillville smartly double-teamed the star guard, who gave up the ball to Jack Rhoades in the corner. Rhoades wide-open trey attempt from the baseline did not fall and Bernard grabbed the rebound. Bernard then hit the second of two free throws with 4.6 seconds to play to seal the win.
“They did a good job guarding Kyle on that final play making him give up the ball,” said Warsaw coach Doug Ogle. “He made a good choice. We were happy with that shot. It just didn’t go in.
“We ran into a very good team tonight. They have a lot of firepower and they shot unbelievable tonight. Our defense was not that bad. They just made a lot of shots. It just comes down to them making shots.
“We were up by four and we had a stretch of like three turnovers that really hurt us. We only had five turnovers for the game, but those three in that stretch in the fourth really hurt us.”
Merrillville shot lights out in the win, going 18-28 from the field. The Pirates hit 6-9 from distance.
Merrillville led 15-12 after the opening period and 26-22 at halftime as Mitchell Ward hit a triple right before the halftime horn. Mangas, who led the Tigers with 24 points, had eight at intermission.
“They shot 11-16 in the first half, including 4-5 from 3-point range, and were 9-20 shooting and we were only down four,” noted Ogle. “We thought that we had weathered it in the first half.”
Mangas, who had 47 points in the semifinal win Saturday, got going in the third period. He dropped in 10 points in the frame, including a pair of treys, as Warsaw outscored the Pirates 16-8 to lead 38-34.
“I’m just extremely proud of our guys to compete like they did today,” remarked Ogle. “For this senior group to get back to this point says a lot about them.”
Mangas finishes his outstanding career fourth in program history with 1,450 points. He trails only Mr. Basketball winners Kevin Ault and Jeff Grose and runner-up Nic Moore on that prestigious list.
“Kyle has just been a joy to be around and a joy to coach,” Ogle said. “He’s a fearless competitor and a great teammate.”
Mangas, who played all 32 minutes in the title game, will now take his talents on to Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion. That stop should come after a stint first with the Indiana All-Star team this June.
“It’s been a great four years and I’m going to miss everything about this program,” said the always classy and humble Mangas. “The class of this program and what these coaches taught me will stick with me.
“We played really hard tonight. Give them credit. They shot the ball really well tonight. I was trying to get an open three on that final possession. I definitely wanted to take the shot, but I was not going to force it up.
“Today was pretty special for me. But it was definitely tough taking off that uniform for the final time. It’s going to be a little weird not wearing it next year.”
Mangas hit 7-14 shots, including 3-8 from deep, and went 7-8 from the line.
Jeremy David scored 10 points for the Tigers. Jaceb Burish and Asher Blum each added four points and Zach Riley and Braxton Minix two each.
Warsaw finished 18-37 overall from the field, including 3-10 from distance. The Tigers were 7-9 from the line.
Jonah Jackson paced the Pirates with 18 points. Cameron Wilbon scored 10, while Bernard and Mileek McMillen each added eight.
Warsaw loses a stellar senior class of Mangas, David, Burish, Minix, Sam Miller, Aaron Sandoval, Kyle Skeans and Shane Powers.
Warsaw, which won the regional a year ago, finishes at 18-10.