Unbeaten LaBrae finishes strong to oust Berkshire
By Greg Gulas
The LaBrae Vikings opened their magical season with a 69-56 road victory over the Berkshire Badgers on Dec. 6.
They ended the Badgers’ season 90 days later after securing their 24th consecutive win, a 62-44 victory Monday night in the Division III district semifinals at Warren Harding High School.
The undefeated and top-ranked Vikings (24-0) advance to Saturday’s championship game and will meet the winner of tonight’s semifinal between Garrettsville Garfield and Champion.
Logan Kiser had a game-high 21 points, Carlton Brown added 13 markers and the Vikings weathered a 16-3 Berkshire (13-12) run to keep their district title hopes alive.
It was game in which both teams tried to dictate tempo at the outset.
“We feel that if we push the ball and run, then teams will get tired in the fourth quarter and that’s when we can make our move,” Kiser said. “We were nervous at the outset and it showed, but we settled down and just played our game. We’ve been down this year at halftime and also in the second half, but we never panic and just stick to our game plan.”
The two teams exchanged buckets to start the game, but seven points by Kiser, including his only triple of the game, keyed a 13-3 run as LaBrae built a 15-5 advantage after the first period of play.
“The pace was a little slower than we like, which was because of the zone. They weren’t in a hurry and we were patient at the outset,” LaBrae head coach Chad Kiser added.
Two buckets by Brown and two free throws by Aaron Iler sparked a 15-2 Vikings’ run as they opened a 26-10 lead with 2:55 remaining in the opening half.
Iler finished with 10 points for LaBrae.
Back-to-back triples by Nick Guarnera and Tim Pillot helped the Vikings close on an 8-2 run as they cut the deficit to 29-18 at the intermission.
“Coach Kiser tells us all the time that as captains, we need to take control of the situation,” Brown said. “It’s fun to play in games like this because you learn a lot about yourselves when you are tested.”
Berkshire scored the first eight points of the second half, completing a 16-3 run that pulled them to within 29-26 with a little over two minutes gone in the quarter.
When Emil Hess unloaded two of his five triples in the stanza, the Badgers pulled to within 38-36 with a period remaining.
Hess’ bucket from beyond the arc 11 seconds into the final frame gave Berkshire a 39-38 lead, but it was short-lived as LaBrae regained the lead 16 seconds later on a bucket in the lane by Tariq Drake.
They would not relinquish it the rest of the way.
The Vikings got nine points from Kiser and another eight from Brown in the session as they outscored the Badgers 24-8 to keep their unblemished slate intact.
“We were flat in the second half and did a terrible job of communicating. We lost cutters and didn’t rotate, but give them credit because they hit their open shots,” Chad Kiser said. “When we lost the lead we buckled down, were able to set up and got some isolation and mismatches off of screens. We finished well because we executed and our depth really helped.”
Badgers coach Keith Clapacs was impressed with the Vikings.
“We knew what we signed up for and have a lot of respect for coach Kiser and his team,” he said. “Once we settled in we scrapped and made shots, but we ran out of gas in the end.”