By TIM CLEVELAND
There’s an old saying that familiarity breeds contempt. While that’s sometimes the case, when it comes to LaBrae and Ursuline, it also breeds exciting basketball games.
The Vikings and Irish have met three times since the beginning of last season and all three have come down to the final buzzer. LaBrae defeated Ursuline last season during the regular season and in a Division III district final, then rallied from a nine-point deficit through three quarters for a 60-56 victory Tuesday night.
“I think they feel like our trip to Columbus (in last season’s state Final Four) could just as easily have been them,” LaBrae coach Chad Kiser said. “We beat them twice last year and they had a shot at the buzzer in both games. You can’t be much more evenly matched.”
Ursuline coach Keith Gunther said his team’s defensive intensity waned in the final quarter.
“We went up nine, then we missed a lot of easy layups,” he said. “We just didn’t play smooth offensively. Like great players do, Peyton (Aldridge) stepped up, made some big plays rebounding the ball, changed some shots and scoring the buckets.
“That’s a tough one for me to swallow. You go up nine at the end of three, then you come back and you lose. I thought it was not a great effort defensively in the fourth for us.”
Aldridge scored seven of his game-high 23 points in the fourth quarter to lead the comeback for the Vikings. He also had 14 rebounds and five blocks.
“They’re a good team,” Aldridge said. “We knew they were going to make a run at some point so we just had to stay calm and bounce back from it. At the start of the fourth quarter we did that.”
The rally was also sparked by junior guard Justin Jenkins. He was 7-of-8 from the foul line in the fourth and had nine of his 13 points in the fourth quarter.
“Justin Jenkins was huge on his free throws,” Kiser said. “He was money. That was really the difference.”
Trailing by nine points, Aldridge got right to it in the fourth, scoring four quick points to make it 45-40. Mike Eakins (seven points) later made consecutive baskets to put LaBrae ahead 48-47 with 3:43 left.
After Desmond McElroy hit two free throws to put Ursuline (3-2) back ahead, Aldridge converted a three-point play that put LaBrae back up 51-49 with 1:54 left. It was an advantage the Vikings would never relinquish. Jenkins later made four free throws to extend to a 55-49 lead with 1:07 to play.
After LaBrae (4-0) tied the game at 36 with 1:08 left in the third, Aldridge went to the bench for a rare rest. Ursuline took advantage of the absence of the Vikings’ 6-foot-8 senior.
Greg Parella and Mark Hughes (a team-high 20 points) scored consecutive baskets for Ursuline, then McElroy had a steal and layup and Hughes made a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Irish a 45-36 lead heading into the fourth.
“We saw Peyton go out, so we just started pressing the heck out of them,” Gunther said.
Kiser said the decision to rest Aldridge backfired on his team.
“With 1:08 on the clock, I tried to get Peyton out; he hadn’t been subbed one time,” he said. “We tied it up with a big 3-point shot. I thought that was the best time to try and go zone, stall them, slow them down a little bit. Peyton had three fouls so I thought it was the right decision, but in hindsight I guess not.”
With a lot of new players from last year’s team that was one win away from the state title game, Kiser said this season’s squad is doing quite well for itself.
“We had seven guys graduate from last year,” he said. “We had a lot of holes to plug. Ask me after game four where we stand. You know what? We’re right there.”