By Joe Scalzo
In Saturday night’s Division III regional boys basketball final, the LaBrae Vikings played like they had been there before.
Which they had. Forty-one years earlier.
“I never sensed all week or tonight a bit of nervousness, which is unreal for kids who’ve never been in this situation before,” said LaBrae coach Chad Kiser after the 59-30 victory over Beachwood. “Just pure confidence.”
LaBrae (24-3) will meet Versailles (22-5) at 2 p.m. Thursday in a state semifinal at Value City Arena. It’s the first state berth for the Vikings, who lost to Poland in their last regional final, in 1972.
“We’ve been together since we were in seventh grade and we’ve grown a lot,” said senior Carl Brown. “Three years in a row we came up short [at districts] but this time we got it.
“We’re gonna celebrate [Saturday and Sunday] and come Monday, we’ll come to practice and go hard.”
LaBrae’s toughest test this season came in the district final, when it survived two overtimes to beat Ursuline 68-61. The Vikings then cruised past Oberlin (75-52) and Beachwood at the Canton Fieldhouse.
Peyton Aldridge, a two-time district player of the year, averages 19.6 points per game to lead LaBrae.
“He’s so versatile,” Kiser said of Aldridge, who had 14 points, 17 rebounds and seven blocks in the regional final. “You put a big [man] on him, we’ll pull him out. Put a little guy on him and we’ll put him down low. Go to zone and we’ll pull him out and he’ll shoot a 3.”
Versailles won its first three tournament games by double digits, then easily beat Worthington Christian in the regional semifinals (63-48) before edging the state’s seventh-ranked team, St. Bernard Roger Bacon, 60-59 in the final.
Versailles’ only other state tournament appearance came in 2004 when the Tigers lost to St. Henry.
Sophomore Kyle Ahrens, a first team all-district selection, averages 20 points for Versailles, while senior Chad Winner, a third teamer, averages 16 points.
LaBrae is the first Mahoning Valley team to advance to the state tournament since Warren Harding in 2008. The Valley’s last championship came in 1994, when Ursuline won Division III.
Third-ranked Ironton (23-2) will play sixth-ranked Ottawa-Glandorf (24-3) in Thursday’s other semifinal. The winners meet at 10:30 a.m. Saturday.
“We know it’s gonna be a big stage,” said Aldridge. “We’ve just got to focus and act like it’s another game.”