CANTON - There were two scary moments for LaBrae in its Division III Regional semifinal against Oberlin.
The first came in the second quarter when the Phoenix stole the momentum and went on an 8-0 run to cut what was a 17-point lead down to 11. The second was a bit more frightening.
Junior Peyton Aldridge, a two-time All-Ohio selection who was dominant in the Vikings' 75-52 rout of Oberlin, fell hard to the floor at Canton Memorial Fieldhouse after he was accidently undercut trying to block a shot late in the fourth quarter. Aldridge crumbled to the court and lay motionless for a few seconds. Coach Chad Kiser and the LaBrae faithful were just as motionless as they looked on in horror.
"I don't think it missed a beat," joked Aldridge of his heart. "I think it just stopped altogether - until he waived me off."
Luckily, Kiser was able to joke because Aldridge simply had the wind knocked out of him and was able to rise to his feet to a chorus of cheers and signal to his coach he was OK. He stayed in the game until the final minutes and never showed any signs from the injury.
"Nothing too serious," said Aldridge, who finished with 28 points, 14 rebounds, four assists and two blocked shots. "I just got the wind knocked out of me a little bit."
The first moment of fear lasted a little longer.
The Vikings (23-3) were on a roll early in the second quarter, building their 18-7 lead after the first 8 minutes and going up, 30-13, with 3 minutes remaining in the second. Yet, that's when Oberlin (18-8) woke up. The Phoenix started to find its offensive rhythm, which centered on driving to the hoop and either hitting a mid-range jump shot or dishing off for an easy lay up.
LaBrae entered the half up, 32-21, but it appeared the Phoenix may have finally found a chink in the Vikings' armor.
"We made a commitment to attack the basket a little more," Oberlin coach Kurt Russell said. "We were settling for a lot of jump shots, and our strength is attacking."
That came to a screeching halt after halftime.
LaBrae outscored the Phoenix, 23-12, in the third quarter to take a 22-point lead into the fourth and erase all doubt. It was quite the opposite from the district final last Saturday when Ursuline came back in the third quarter and eventually forced double overtime in a game the Vikings seemed to have in hand. Six different players scored for LaBrae during Wednesday's third frame, but their adjustments on defense were the key, Kiser said.
"We were not supposed to guard that 3-point line," he said. "If you watched in the first half, the few times we did, they were quick enough to get by us. We were packing it inside, and were not going past the 3-point line."
The point of the "sagging" defense was to force the Phoenix into taking jump shots, which Russell admitted was a weakness of his team. The plan worked perfectly. Oberlin again tried to drive inside and hit pull-up jumpers or pass off to an open man, but this time they ran into multiple defenders who were ready with a hand in their face or help defense that was waiting for a pass.
"We gave a speech at halftime, hoping that we could get on a four- or six-point run," Russell said. "We thought if we could bring the score down under double digits, we could get right back into the game. But that third-quarter run (by LaBrae) really got us off our game. I give that team a lot of credit. They played a heck of a ball game."
The lopsided win infused even more confidence into the Vikings, who were coming off a thrilling, double-overtime win over a vastly talented Ursuline team. Kiser said the win over the Irish showed him and the rest of the Vikings they could come through in the final moments of a crucial game. The victory over Oberlin demonstrated that LaBrae wasn't going to be afraid when the bright lights at Canton Memorial Fieldhouse came on. They'll come on again at 7 p.m. Saturday when the Vikings, in their first regional final in school history, take on Beachwood, the No. 8-ranked team in the state, in the Division III regional championship.
"No," said Kiser of whether the win over Oberlin gave the coaching staff any more confidence in the Vikings. "Because I know what they're capable of. A lot of the time, that's why I'm yelling because they're not reaching their potential. I know we can beat Beachwood on Saturday, but I know Beachwood can beat us if we're not ready to go.
"But this team has a goal. We want to go to Columbus."
Aldridge, however, said the win did build his and the team's confidence. The way the Vikings executed the game plan, came out strong in on a big stage and made adjustments at the half were just a few of the reasons he was so optimistic. They way they're playing, Aldridge said, he's not settling for a trip to Columbus.
"We want to go all the way," he said. "We feel like we've got all the pieces."