Huge task awaits Irish against state champs

By Tom Williams


Stroll through the halls of Ursuline High School and you can’t miss seeing fliers promoting the school’s Spring Fling Dance set for next Friday.

The Fighting Irish boys basketball team hopes the dance is spoiled by a game in Columbus.

“Oh yeah, we definitely could [ruin the dance],” junior guard Mark Hughes said.

Senior post player Giovanni Naples said, “The plan is, hopefully, I am going to have to miss that dance. “That would be really nice.”

Then he added, “They’d probably postpone it.”

It will take a very strong effort tonight for the Irish to advance to the state tournament for the first time since Ursuline won a championship in 1994.

Ursuline (18-8), which defeated Creston Norwayne 74-56 on Thursday, will play Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph (20-7) in the Division III regional final at the Canton Fieldhouse tonight at 7.

“They are long, athletic, big,” Ursuline head coach Keith Gunther said of the Vikings, the defending Division IV state champions.

In last year’s regional final, VASJ overwhelmed Youngstown Christian, 86-50. In the third quarter, the score was 62-25.

Gunther knows the Irish will have their hands full, but he doesn’t mind.

“Halfway [through the season], I told our kids that I want to have a shot at St. Joe’s,” Gunther said. “We’re going to see what we are made of now.”

Gunther’s theme for Friday’s practice? The Biblical story of David versus Goliath.

“We’re going talk about it while watching film,” Gunther said. “We have to go out there and confident that you can make it happen.”

The Vikings advanced by defeating Canton Central Catholic, 72-64, in Thursday’s other semifinal. Six-foot-10 Carlton Bragg scored 22 points. Brian Parker netted 21 points and Derek Pardon (6-8) contributed 16 points and eight rebounds.

“They’ve got bigs who can really score in the interior,” said Hughes, who scored 27 against Norwayne. “We have to do a real good job of forcing them to take [bad] shots and getting the rebounds.

“If we play like [we did Thursday], it’s going to be a good game,” Hughes said. “We’re going to have to get stops and make shots.”

Senior post player Paul Jackson (6-6), Naples (6-5) and freshman Armon Nasseri (6-5) will be busy underneath the basket.

“We’re definitely excited,” Jackson said. “We messed up last time playing against Saint V’s [Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary] so we definitely want this chance to get a big win against a great team.”

Jackson was referring to the Irish’s 78-65 loss to SVSM on Feb. 11.

Five of the Vikings’ losses were to teams who were nationally ranked at game time. The Irish anticipate the challenge.

“I consider it a blessing,” Naples said. “I believe we have worked hard for it. Coach Gun even said we deserve it for putting up with him because he’s a pretty tough coach.

“We’re just going to keep fighting.”

Gunther has had four regional teams in his 10 seasons as head coach.

“When you’re a coach and you’re still playing [this week], it’s probably the most exciting time,” Gunther said. ”It never gets old. It’s a special feeling because it’s always a different set of kids.

“We’ve got district titles,” Gunther said. “I told them that I want to feel that bond [that comes from] winning a regional title.

“We’re going to have to step it up.”

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