CORTLAND -- Since he was in the ninth grade, Lakeview High's Alex Koltsov has been practicing his last-second shot, just waiting for an opportunity to use it.
With Friday's showdown against Liberty tied at 50-50 with 15 seconds remaining, his chance came. He gathered the ball at the top of the key, dribbled inside the lane and jumped toward the hoop.
But instead of going for the winning shot, he spotted fellow senior Mike Frangiamore in good position underneath and delivered a pass, which Frangimore threw in as the buzzer sounded and the Lakeview crowd stormed the court.
Final score: Lakeview 52, Liberty 50.
"I was thinking about shooting at first, but I kind of slipped, so I threw it over to Mike and he put it in," Koltsov said. "I threw it to him and hoped for the best."
The Bulldogs' victory enabled them to draw even with Liberty in the Trumbull Athletic Conference standings with four league games remaining. Lakeview is 14-2, 9-1, while the Leopards fall to 12-4, 9-1.
"Alex is the best point guard in the TAC," said Frangimore, who finished with eight points. "He always looks to pass, so I knew I had to be ready. We don't call fouls in practice so that teaches us to go up strong."
Down to one shot
Neither team led by more than four points in the entire game, which featured a half-dozen ties and seven lead changes. After 32 minutes of scintillating basketball, it came down to one shot -- just like everyone expected.
"We thought it would be a dogfight over here," Liberty coach Burt Stellers said. "Lakeview just did so many little things to get hustle points. We really needed to hit our free throws at the end, but they did and we didn't."
Besides going 2-of-5 at the free throw line in the final five minutes of the game, the Leopards played all but 40 seconds of the fourth quarter without lone senior Brandon Cornwell, who fouled out with just two points.
Lakeview, however, had plenty of experience on the floor down the stretch and coach Larry Herrholtz showed confidence in his veterans.
After Liberty's Edward Kershaw knotted the score at 50-all with 21 seconds left, Herrholtz had a decision to make. He could call a timeout to set up a final play or let his team try to win it on their own.
"I had timeouts left, but we had the hands in Koltsov's hands and I was comfortable with that," he said. "I had my seniors out there and they knew what to do. Alex looked at me and I looked at him and he knew what I wanted."
Not directly involved in the last-second heroics, but equally important to the win was the effort by Lakeview's Eddie Mackiewicz. The junior drilled four 3-pointers in the first half, scoring 14 of his team-high 18 points to keep the Bulldogs within striking distance.
"This wasn't a must-win for us," Herrholtz said. "We just wanted to come out and do the fundamental things right and handle the big game atmosphere. If everyone played their roles, then winning would take of itself.
"We still have four tough games to go, but now we're in the race. Not many people expected us to be here, but here we are."