CANTON - LaBrae's Peyton Aldridge hunched over near the free-throw line and joined in as Beachwood huddled up for a brief talk during the second quarter of a Division III regional final at Canton Memorial Fieldhouse.
There was a break in the action because the Bison were preparing to shoot a free throw, and when they came together for a quick meeting, Aldridge poked his head in to see how things were going.
"I was just standing around the block, and they just kind of came around me," Aldridge said, "so I just listened to what they had to say."
Tribune Chronicle / Michael Taylor
The LaBrae boys basketball team celebrates winning Saturday’s Division III regional title against Beachwood at the Canton Memorial Fieldhouse. The Vikings won, 59-30, and play in next week’s state semifinal against Versailles.
It seemed like LaBrae was in Beachwood's huddle all night during their 59-30 thrashing of the Bison on Saturday night. The Vikings (24-3) advanced to the state semifinals for the first time in school history. They play Versailles (22-5) at 2 p.m. on Thursday at the Jerome Schottenstein Center in Columbus.
LaBrae reached this point by implementing a zone defense that kept the fleet-footed Bison from gaining any penetration into the lane. The few times Beachwood (23-4) slid through a crease in the zone, the 6-foot-7 Aldridge was waiting. He finished with seven blocks to go along with 14 points and 17 rebounds.
Overall, LaBrae forced the Bison into 7-of-50 shooting (14 percent) from the floor. The Vikings held All-Ohio honoree John Davis III to nine points, seven of which came in the fourth quarter, when the game was well out of hand. Davis entered the game averaging 20 points per contest.
"It was solely to stop (Davis)," said LaBrae coach Chad Kiser of the zone defense. "They didn't shoot well in the tournament from what we've seen, so we didn't know if we were going to sag in a man-to-man (defense) like we did against Oberlin or go zone. We were back and forth, and sometime around 4 o'clock this afternoon I made up my mind that we were going to go into that zone."
The scheme worked better than Kiser ever imagined.
LaBrae led 17-0 after the first quarter and was up 45-10 entering the fourth quarter, its biggest lead of the game. Davis, the Bison's point guard and the Division III Lakes District Player of the Year, finished 2 of 17 from the floor and 0 of 12 from beyond the arc. He didn't have much help either. Beachwood couldn't make any outside shots - literally. They finished 0 of 24 from 3-point range.
"We didn't shoot it well, but they had a lot to do with it," Beachwood coach Jason Pecjak said of the Vikings. "I don't know if it was the stage or setting, but that's the worst we've shot the ball all year."
The Vikings' offense made sure the defensive effort didn't go to waste. Aldridge labored through a slow start, but senior Carl Brown and junior Marcell Richardson picked up the slack as each scored six first-quarter points. They finished tied with a game-high 15 points.
LaBrae was efficient on offense all game, shooting 24 of 50 from the field with 10 different players scoring. The Vikings also outrebounded the Bison, 46 to 31. One of their biggest keys was holding Beachwood to four fast-break points. Pecjak said most of the Bison's offense is generated by forcing turnovers and converting them into points on the break.
"It didn't help that we couldn't score, so we couldn't get set up in our press," Pecjak said. "Their guards are strong with the ball, and whenever they needed someone to bail them out, they'd just throw it up to Peyton."
The zone ran by LaBrae, which appeared to put three men on the perimeter and two inside, was the determining factor. Pecjak said he tried different sets and used a variety of lineups to try and create some offensive rhythm. But with the 3-point shot not falling and Davis being kept from driving inside, the offense crumbled.
"We saw a fair share (of zones) this year, and we obviously never shot it that bad," he said. "You stress getting to the rim, but again, with Peyton in the middle we couldn't do that either. Any putbacks we had, Peyton would just swat them out of there.
"Obviously it doesn't help when you have the whole city of LaBrae here rooting them on. It was a tough situation."
The Vikings are now in uncharted territory. But being in the state semifinal isn't surprising to Brown. It's a position he said the Vikings expected to be in all along.
"This wasn't a shock to us," Brown said. "We've been dreaming about this since the seventh grade, and we thought we could do this all along. It's been a good journey. It feels good to finally get here and finish it."