HOWLAND - LaBrae standout Peyton Aldridge is ready for the tournament.
Entering Wednesday night's sectional final against Campbell, Aldridge and the Vikings certainly weren't lacking any motivation, having been knocked out of the tournament in consecutive years earlier than expected.
However, early foul trouble and poor shooting kept things interesting, save for the fact that the Red Devils had no answer for Aldridge. The junior posted 22 of LaBrae's first-half points and finished with 33 points to carry the Vikings to a 67-39 win.
"We didn't pound it in there early," LaBrae coach Chad Kiser said. "We took too many quick shots and didn't take advantage of our height inside. Peyton's offensive rebounding kept us in it the first half."
The 6-foot-7 junior did just about whatever he wanted, putting an exclamation on the first half by catching a one-handed alley-oop dunk with just seconds remaining, to extend the Viking lead to 28-19 at the half.
Still, Kiser didn't think much of team's first-half performance.
"We weren't mentally executing," he said. "Maybe there was too much excitement because it's tournament time because it wasn't that we weren't playing hard. We weren't playing smart.
"We had eight team fouls in the first quarter and it killed our rotation and the subbing pattern we wanted to go with."
LaBrae softened up defensively to end the first half, relying on Aldridge and the bench to get stops without fouling. To begin the second half, however, Kiser had his players turn up the heat, pressuring Campbell's guards, forcing turnovers, and posting a dominating 24-4 advantage during the third quarter.
Aldridge finished the night with 14 rebounds to accompany his game-high 33 points. Carl Brown chipped in 10 points for LaBrae (20-3).
Campbell was led by George Billiris, who totaled nine points.
The LaBrae sets up a third go-around with the Newton Falls Tigers, whom the Vikings beat twice in the regular season. Both games were competitive.
Kiser knows all too well that the regular season means nothing. He even went as far as calling the one-seed "a spot on the bracket." The Vikings will not be overlooking Newton Falls.
"They're very well coached and it's going to be tough," Kiser said. "They'll come in with a nice gameplan and they'll execute it. Roy (Sembach) is one of the best coaches around so we'll have to be focused. They can beat anybody and I think it's going to be a possession-by-possession close game.
"That's the way it should be the rest of the way out. We've reached that point in the season."
Aldridge explained that the Vikings aren't so much focused on the shortcomings of the past as they are motivated about the prospects of the future.
"We're highly motivated," he said. "Every day at practice we've been going at it hard and I think we're well-prepared. Newton Falls is always a rivalry game and both teams will be up for it. They're very well-coached and I think it'll be a fun game."