LEAVITTSBURG - The class of 2013 at LaBrae High School has known nothing but success.
Following the Vikings' 68-53 win over Liberty on Friday night, the team celebrated its third-straight All-American Conference title, handing out "3-peat" T-shirts after the final whistle.
For the seniors, though, this success isn't confined to their varsity careers - they've been champions since junior high school. The class of 2013 won a conference title every year since seventh grade, winning at the junior high, freshman, junior varsity and varsity levels.
Tribune Chronicle / Michael Taylor
LaBrae’s Carl Brown (15)?drives to the basket for a layup Friday night against Liberty.
"We play for our school," senior Nate Middleton said. "So, it's great to win all those years and never lose."
Not only have the Vikings taken the conference crown the past three years, they've dominated it.
LaBrae hasn't lost a single conference contest dating back to the 2010-2011 season. LaBrae coach Chad Kiser credits this record to the hard work his players have put in, including this senior class.
"It's special just to win a championship three straight years, but to not lose a conference game for three straight years is really special," Kiser said. "It's a great class. You don't find that very often."
After one half of Friday night's game, that unblemished record looked to be in jeopardy.
Despite a slow start for Liberty (9-11), the Leopards clawed back late in the second quarter, shrinking an 11-point lead to four points before the break. Liberty kept up the pressure until the 5:06 mark in the third quarter, when Tyler Evans hit a field goal from just inside the 3-point line to make it 38-36.
Then, things fell apart for Liberty. The Vikings (16-3, 10-0) started to crash the boards, taking any second chance opportunities for the Leopards and scoring nine second chance points. By the end of the third, LaBrae had a 16-point lead and never looked back.
"We showed a lot (of heart) in the first half," Liberty coach Dan Bubon said. "I didn't like what we showed in the second half. In the middle of the third quarter, we just lost all our energy.
"When we lost our energy in the third quarter, they just got rebound after rebound after rebound. You can't beat (LaBrae) if they get rebounds like that."
Peyton Aldridge led the charge for LaBrae in the third, scoring eight of his team-high 18 points.
The 6-foot-7 junior spent most of the first half as a facilitator, helping to create for others rather than for himself, but he changed that in the third quarter. He attacked on the offensive glass, grabbing three offensive rebounds and turning them into putback buckets during LaBrae's 18-6 run to end the third quarter.
"Most of his points tonight, he got them from the free throw line and some offensive rebounds for putbacks," Kiser said. "He's just a really smart player and he won't force anything and be out of control. We'll take what they give him."
With the conference season over, the Vikings can turn toward the only elusive goal since 2011: a district championship.
The past two seasons, LaBrae lost to Berkshire in the district semifinal (2012) and final (2013), leaving a particular sting in the players' mouths.
The Vikings finish their regular season with games against Berkshire and Cardinal and will be looking for those two games to springboard them into a deep tournament run.
"We're going after (a district title)," said senior John Richards, who scored 15 points against Liberty. "There's been some disappointments these past two years, but I think this year, we'll be ready for it."