LEAVITTSBURG - Either way he looks at it, LaBrae High School basketball coach Chad Kiser likes his team's chances in the Division III Region 9 semifinal tonight.
He just likes them a little better if Marcell Richardson is in the lineup.
The 6-foot-2 sophomore forward suffered a concussion in the district final against Ursuline, and Kiser isn't sure if he'll play against Oberlin High School at 8 p.m. tonight at the Canton Memorial Fieldhouse.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
LaBrae’s Peyton Aldridge reaches up and grabs a rebound over Campbell’s Michael Williams during an early round tournament game. LaBrae takes on Oberlin tonight.
"We held him out Monday and we'll have him do a little light jogging and see how he feels," he said. "We'll have to take it from there. Hopefully he's ready to go. He'll be a big part of our gameplan (if he can play). He can run the floor, handle the ball, attack the baseline and rebound. I like our matchup much better with him."
That said, Kiser believes his Vikings can win either way. It's nothing against the Phoenix (18-7), who are a quick, aggressive team and boast a marquee player in Jason Moore, a 6-foot-3 senior point guard who averages 17 points, eight rebounds and three assists per game.
Kiser respects Oberlin. It's the overall matchup he likes.
"We're facing another athletic team like Ursuline, but I don't see that same ability to match up with us as well as Ursuline," he said. "They didn't play anyone real big, and they don't have anyone big enough to guard (6-7 junior Peyton Aldridge) inside. So I like our chances. Every team is good at this point, so we have to play well. But I think if we show up and play our game, we have a good shot Wednesday night."
Contending with Moore, who will play college football at Tiffin University this fall, and dealing with Oberlin's team speed will determine just how good of a shot. The Phoenix's trap defense can suffocate opponents, according to their coach, Kurt Russell. The biggest challenge for Oberlin will be doing it against a much taller team. Moore is the Phoenix's tallest player at 6-3, while LaBrae presents three starters at least 6-2 and a bench that holds another three (four with Richardson) who are 6-2 or bigger.
"We are very undersized. And we were undersized in most of the games we played in," Russell said. "We compensate for that with quickness, and hopefully we can put pressure on their guards and see if they can handle the ball. With our pressure, we're able to utilize our quickness an take teams out of their game."
Then there's Aldridge, a two-time first-team All-Ohio selection who has a bevy of Division I colleges hoping he joins their university. The junior, who Kiser called "the most versatile player in the state," averages 20 points, 11.5 rebounds and more than four assists a game. Dealing with him is a different story, Russell said.
"Anyone with that type of talent, it's hard to really stop him," he said. "He's going to get his, but what we're going to try and do is make him take difficult shots. If we can close out and make him take tough shots, maybe that can help us."
If it does, Kiser believes the rest of the Vikings can take over. Seniors like Carl Brown, John Richards, Nate Middleton, Paul Zigmont and Justin Jenkins have produced at key moments throughout their careers, and while none of those Vikings' played in LaBrae's last regional appearance in 2009, Kiser isn't worried about any stage fright.
"There aren't many teams that can guard Peyton with just one guy," Kiser said. "And he sees the floor so well, as long as we're on the same page as a group, and we're moving the ball, we'll make teams pay when they're doing that.
"We've been moving the ball around better during the tournament, and guys are ready to attack when it's their turn. We're getting a lot better at it. Staying focused is the name of the game for us."
Oberlin, which is in its first regional since 2001, has its share of productive complimentary players as well. Marcus Bailey, a 6-2 senior, averages 13 points and seven rebounds, and Noland Isom, a 5-11 senior, registers eight points a game. Russell, a 1990 Oberlin graduate who helped lead the Phoenix to a regional appearance that year, believes his veteran group is up to the challenge, especially because of Moore.
"We really turn to them for points and also to be leaders on the floor," he said of the seniors. "Jason is a kid with good character - he's a good student and he does the right things. He's a real thinker, too. He sees the floor very well. He can go both ways off the dribble, and he's a decent shooter. He's everything for us. When he goes, we go."