LEAVITTSBURG - After recording big wins in the past couple of weeks and with the tournament right around the corner, the LaBrae Vikings needed a test, and that's exactly what they got on Friday night.
Leading by more than 20 points at one point, LaBrae watched the lead disappear and had to hold on for a 65-56 win over Cardinal in the team's regular-season finale.
Viking coach Chad Kiser didn't like that the lead evaporated, but said that it was better to happen now than in the district tournament.
"It was nice to have that point there in the fourth quarter where (Cardinal) cut it down to two points," Kiser said. "We had to buckle down and play. We went from thinking we had it in the bag to being tested.
"You don't like to give up that lead, but on the other hand, it's nice to be tested right before tournament time and work on some situational stuff."
Halfway through the third quarter, the Vikings (19-3) held a 21-point lead and looked to be on their way to a comfortable win.
The Huskies (11-11) changed that by going on a 17-0 run over the final four-and-a-half minutes of the third to pull within four points. Cardinal hit a few shots it didn't earlier the game, including three 3-pointers and a couple of deep jumpers.
Cardinal also forced three turnovers over that span to cut down on LaBrae's offensive opportunities.
"Most games, we play pretty good in the third quarter," Cardinal coach Jon Cummins said. "In the first half, they were a little unsure if they could (play with LaBrae) or not. I think they really did doubt themselves. I was trying to get it into them that we can play with them, and they realized that coming out in the third quarter."
The Vikings helped the Huskies a bit in the third quarter by shooting 0 of 5 from beyond the arc, but LaBrae rectified that in the fourth quarter by giving the ball to Carl Brown.
The senior guard found himself in a prime matchup with Cardinal senior Jason Farmwald guarding him, and Brown took advantage. Brown posted up on the low block and managed to turn that into six of his eight points in the final quarter to help his team see out the game.
For Brown, this situation wasn't a new one, despite being 5 foot 10.
"I weigh a lot, so sometimes I have a mismatch and can go down low," Brown said. "If the guy's too big, I can beat him off the dribble. So, I usually have a mismatch."
Brown finished with 23 points, matched only by teammate Peyton Aldridge's 24 points. Kiser said that the team needs these types of performances from every player going forward.
"He didn't play spectacular tonight - he just played well," Kiser said. "It's what he's capable of doing. We're going going to need that from him in the tournament."
With the regular season over, the Vikings can turn their attention to the district tournament, a sticking point over the last three years.
LaBrae has fallen short, losing in the district final in 2010 and 2011 and the district semifinal in 2012 , but the team is hoping this year will be different. Kiser said that the last two games against Berkshire and Cardinal, which are in the same district tournament, were good tune ups going into the postseason.
The morale going into the tournaments is high, but Brown warned against complacency during the tournament.
"We don't want to make our heads too big," Brown said. "We want to take each game one at a time. We just don't want to come up short this time. We lost three times in a row, and this time, I think we got it."