Vikings recover from slow start
By Dan Hiner
The LaBrae boys basketball team was admittedly frustrated during the first half in a district semifinal game on Tuesday.
But the Vikings turned things around at Warren Harding High School and beat Champion 62-49 to advance to the Division III district title game.
Tyler Stephens scored 12 of his 17 points in the second half to resettle the Vikings. Stephens also finished with a game-high nine rebounds.
“The confidence is definitely there,” Stephens said. “But again, it’s all about playing angry, together and as a team. If you do all three things, you get 50-50 balls and you stay confident, don’t get frustrated — we got a little frustrated.
“We just calmed down, played our game and ended well.”
The Golden Flashes (15-9) jumped out to a 17-11 lead at the end of the first quarter. Champion was double teaming Stephens for most of the first half, holding him to five points.
But the Vikings righted the ship. LaBrae (20-4) ended the first half on an 11-0 run to tie the game at 27.
“The coaches told me, ‘Big players in these games don’t get frustrated.’ And I just have the best teammates in the world,” Stephens said. “They did their job, I did my job and everything just started clicking. I couldn’t thank these guys any more.”
The message was heard loud and clear.
The Vikings made their first eight shots of the second half, with Stepehens scoring six points. The only LaBrae miss of the quarter came in the final 30 seconds.
Champion tried to come back, but LaBrae’s full-court press shut down its offense.
Chase Wheelock scored a game-high 19 points to lead the Golden Flashes. Joe Abramovich and Nick Stahlman each scored 10 points.
Champion has struggled with LaBrae for years.
The Golden Flashes haven’t beat LaBrae in 11 seasons, including a loss in the district final last year.
“The big thing with them is they are super athletic,” Champion head coach Nathan Kish said. “They have athletes that make plays.
“I mean they’re typically quicker than us, they’re faster than us, they jump higher than us, they’re bigger than us. So we have to really manage a game well and we have to be sound with the ball and we didn’t do that.”
The Vikings will play Edgewood in the district final on Friday.
The Warriors beat LaBrae twice in the regular season, but the Vikings are slightly optimistic for the third meeting.
Edgewood beat the Vikings 55-46 in Ashtabula in the second meeting of the year. LaBrae head coach Chad Kiser knows his players are aware of an uphill battle, but thinks they have a shot at beating the top seed.
“Edgewood is an extremely good team. They play a six-man rotation. All six are seniors, all threats to score and the most impressive part is that they play both ends of the floor,” Kiser said. “They play extremely good defense, probably the best defense we’ve seen all year both times we’ve played ‘em.
“We know we got our hands full. Hopefully that gives us a slight advantage, having been here last year. That might be the only advantage we’d have I’d say.”