“Angry” LaBrae beats Champion for district title
LaBrae exorcizes district demons with decisive win against Champion to advance to regionals
By BOB ETTINGER
Tyler Stephens had a word of advice for his LaBrae teammates in the moments leading up to the Division III district final at Warren G. Harding High School on Friday night.
The Vikings took Stephens’ urging and turned it into a 56-41 victory over Champion exorcising the demons of years’ past.
“They wanted to get it done,” LaBrae coach Chad Kiser said. “People talk about what we didn’t do the last two years. We had great regular seasons but you start to get labeled as a team that can’t win in the postseason. (This team) wanted to prove that wasn’t them. They just came out and decided. Tyler said to play angry right before we left the locker room. And he went out and did it, too.”
After exits in the district tournament the last two seasons, the Vikings felt they needed to take the next step.
“With all the hard work we’ve put in every day at practice the last couple of years, I think these guys deserved to make it further,” Aaron Iler said. “It’s truly upsetting to be so close. We had so much potential. It was heartbreaking. I feel no one deserves to be here as much as these guys.”
LaBrae (24-1) will play Canton Central Catholic in a regional semifinal at Canton Fieldhouse at 6:15 p.m. Wednesday.
“These guys aren’t ready to be done,” Kiser said. “They’re not just going to settle for this. There are nothing but great teams that are playing really well in the Sweet 16.”
Iler netted eight points as the Vikings outscored the Golden Flashes (15-10) 14-0 over nearly six minutes in the second quarter to turn a 12-12 tie into a 26-14 lead with 2:13 remaining in the first half.
“They rebounded offensively. They rebound better than anyone around. If you give up offensive rebounds, it gives them energy then their pressure becomes too hard to handle. It gives them energy and excitement and it translates into better pressure,” Champion coach Nathan Kish said. “We gave up two or three offensive rebounds in a row, then turned it over a couple times and we couldn’t slow the game down after that the way we wanted to.
“They play the game the right way. They play hard and they don’t showboat. I wish them the best of luck and I hope they represent the area well.”
Stephens finished with 21 points and 14 rebounds to pace the Vikings.
“I just used my size and agility and my teammates helped me with the rest,” Stephens said. “I can’t do anything without them.”
Iler added 16 points and seven boards.
“They weren’t putting a body on me to keep me from rebounding (in the second quarter),” Iler said. “I was working to make sure I got around my guy and put up some points.”
Logan Kiser chipped in with 11 points and eight rebounds.
Drake Batcho tallied 11 points and six rebounds, Joe Abramovich had 10 points and Chase Wheelock scored nine points for the Golden Flashes who laid a foundation for the future.
“We grew tremendously from the first game to now,” Kish said. “I mean tremendously. It was huge for the program to get to this point. We hadn’t been to a district final since 2003. When you’re trying to build a program, you want to have nights like this. Obviously, you want to win, but LaBrae has been here and they know what it takes. Getting here in our first year (in the program) is a great way to get the kids to buy in.”