By Tom Williams
After a double-digit lead evaporated, the LaBrae High boys basketball team’s hopes came down to a player who was seeing stars.
Trailing by two in the waning seconds of regulation, LaBrae’s Marcell Richardson went for a loose ball and smacked heads with Ursuline’s Desmond McElroy. Groggy, Richardson still made his two free throws to force overtime.
In a second bonus session, Peyton Aldridge scored seven of the Vikings’ 13 points as LaBrae ousted Ursuline, 68-61, in the Division III district championship game at Howland High.
“It’s surreal right now,” LaBrae coach Chad Kiser said as his players celebrated. “We had some free throws that could have clinched it and we didn’t get them.
“But we didn’t hang our heads, we kept battling,” Kiser said.
Aldridge led the Vikings (22-3) with 27 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks.
“That’s probably the best player we’ve had in here since probably [Warren Harding’s] Desmar Jackson,” said Ursuline coach Keith Gunther of Aldridge.
Overtime appeared to be anything but possible when the Vikings led 30-19 and Aldridge went for a dunk over McElroy. But Aldridge was called for a charge and momentum shifted.
“I didn’t even feel the guy underneath me,” Aldridge said of the foul.
Ryan Strollo ignited the Irish, who outscored the Vikings 16-8 the rest of the quarter. Strollo’s three baskets during the run included two 3-pointers.
“Strollo is a very hot shooter,” Aldridge said. “He caught fire there and brought them right back into it.”
The fourth quarter seesawed, with Strollo putting the Irish ahead, 42-40. Richardson’s free throws tied the game with 21 seconds to go.
“He hit them big,” Kiser said, adding that he suspects Richardson suffered a concussion. “He couldn’t go back in. He definitely got his bell rung.”
Aldridge said practicing free throws daily paid off for Richardson.
“Those were big-time free throws that he hit for us,” Aldridge said.
As regulation faded, Strollo almost won the game. His baseline jumper went in and out, preserving the tie.
“They were an inch away,” Kiser said. “The ball was all the way and [then] out. That’s when my heart really stopped.”
“We got him the perfect look,” Gunther said. “The shot went half-way down. It’s funny how it became a game of inches. If that ball falls, we’re out there jumping up and down, cutting down the nets.”
Instead the game proceeded to two high-scoring bonus sessions. Aldridge made two consecutive baskets for a 50-46 lead, but late in the overtime, Ursuline’s Khalid Pierce made two free throws for a 55-55 score that sent the game to a second overtime.
After Aldridge and Strollo exchanged 3-pointers, the Vikings took a 63-58 lead when John Richards, Carl Brown and Aldridge sank free throws.
Chris Gunther’s 3-pointer revived the Irish’s hopes, but Nathan Middleton, Brown and Aldridge combined for five more free throws to seal LaBrae’s first district crown since 2009.
“It’s an amazing feeling, but we know we have to get ready for regionals,” Aldridge said.
Richardson contributed 12 points while Richards scored 11.
For the Irish, Strollo led the Irish (13-12) with 15 points. Kevin Jackson had 12 points and eight rebounds while McElroy scored 11.
“Their physicalness caused us problems,” Gunther said. “They’re tough.”