VASJ too much for Tigers

CANTON – Villa Angela-St. Joseph, one of the state’s traditional boys basketball powerhouses, was coming off losing a handful of NCAA Division I players from last season’s team to graduation.

The Vikings still found a way to upset a very good Beachwood team and get to the Division III regional at the Canton Memorial Fieldhouse.

Standing in the Vikings way for another regional final appearance was a senior-laden Newton Falls team. In the end, the Tigers succumbed in a 58-28 decision Wednesday in a regional semifinal.

VASJ ran roughshod in the first couple of minutes – amassing an 11-0 lead, capped by William Butler’s basket with 4:34 left in the first. The Vikings, after making their first four shots, missed their remaining 12 of the quarter. VASJ, which only had seven turnovers, shot 27-of-56 for the game.

Newton Falls (18-8) wasn’t going to go away quietly. Jaden Walton, Newton Falls’ leading scorer at 27 points per game, broke through with a four-foot jumper with 4:18 left in the first stanza. Noah Suarez countered a minute later with the first of his four 3-pointers.

“We tried picking up the tempo and coming back,” Suarez said. “We had a bad start to the half and we tried to pick it up from there.”

Ben Simpson’s drive to the basket with a minute remaining crept Newton Falls back within 11-9 after one. Newton Falls shot 3-of-11 in the first quarter and 10-of-39 for the game.

“I was exceptionally proud of that first quarter,” Tigers coach Roy Sembach said. “You fall behind a storied program like VASJ and you think, ‘Man, we’re going to get beat by 60. It’s over.’ Our kids battled back.

“Honestly I was disappointed it was 11-9. We had a couple of little opportunities there. We would’ve had the lead at that point. That showed how that team was.”

Newton Falls came out in the second quarter with three of its 20 turnovers and missed its first four shots as VASJ (21-5) went out on an 8-0 run before Walton made the Tigers first bucket – an 18-footer with 4:50 before halftime.

Newton Falls trailed 33-20 at the end of two quarters as the Vikings wreaked havoc on the Tigers’ 2-3 zone defense.

“We’re usually pretty active in that 2-3,” Sembach said. “We thought they were better around the basket and driving, other than the Dean kid. We wanted to pack it in a little bit more. That’s against our nature. That really cost us in the second quarter. We were coming out a little too far.

“They were able to slip that ball inside or drive it inside. That’s when they were able to dump it down low to score or, because they got inside, Dean got loose on the outside. It’s tough to change the way you play.”

Newton Falls thought it had one more comeback in it. The Vikings had different ideas as they ripped through the Tigers and outscored Newton Falls 17-5 and led 50-25 after three quarters.

“To their credit, they are a tremendous defensive team,” Sembach said. “They’re the best defensive team we’ve seen all year – bar none. They made it tough on us.

“Second half when we missed, they got a lot of run outs. Then, the game got away from us there early in the third quarter.”

Newton Falls tried its best to slow down VASJ, but most times to no avail.

“We did it at times, but it’s hard to do for 32 minutes against something like that,” Sembach said.

Dean led VASJ with 14 points, while Kevin Roberts had 11 and Daniel McGarry added 10. The

“This was an honor to get here and be here,” Sembach said. “This is what I call an OHSAA game. If they think Newton Falls playing Cleveland is what they want in regionals, we’re going to continue to have that. St. Joe’s, they’re going to go where they go. They’re well-coached and a good team. But we play that team a lot of times, it would be very hard for us to beat them. No question.”

The Vikings play St. Thomas Aquinas, which beat Oberlin in Tuesday’s other semifinal, in the regional championship on Saturday.

Walton ended with 10 points.

“Jaden has had the best season a Newton Falls Tiger has ever had,” Sembach said. “Scoring 27 points a game when teams are box-and-one, face guarding, triangle-and-two, still able to score and defend and rebound. He does it all.”

Suarez had a team-high 14 points.

“He was a tremendous ball handler for us,” Sembach said. “He was the one who could give Jaden a break from doing everything out there.”

Alex Ball, Alan Boone and Ben Koontz were the other seniors.

“Those three guys, other sports were their best sports,” Sembach said. “They bought into basketball. They liked playing in our program. They did every little thing imaginable without complaint to help our team get better.”

It was a team Sembach is very proud to have coached this season.

“It was a team that wasn’t expected do much of anything,” he said. “In the summer, we were a very average basketball team. To win a district championship, unbelievable accomplishment. Extremely proud of all of them, not just the seniors.”