LaBrae quickly wins share of AAC title

LEAVITTSBURG – If you ever wanted to measure the speed of light, try comparing it to the swift time in which the game between the Newton Falls Tigers and LaBrae Vikings was played Friday night.

The Vikings didn’t need much more than one hour to put the wrapping on a 42-34 win that clinched a share of the All-American Conference, National Division championship. The game was finished in time for fans to get home to watch their favorite 9 p.m. television shows.

All thanks should be given to Tigers coach Roy Sembach, who twice deployed slowdown tactics in an attempt to pull the Vikings out of their zone defense. The Tigers, who had possession to start the fourth quarter, didn’t begin running a play until 3 minutes had expired. By the time they got off a shot that was off the mark and the Vikings gained possession, just 4:32 remained to play with LaBrae having a suddenly comfortable 37-28 lead.

Sembach saw no need to hurry on the offensive end against the taller Vikings, who have 6-foot-7 Peyton Aldridge down low to deflect and re-route any attempts in the lane.

“They’re one of the better teams in the state, and if you have a chance to shorten the game, I’d rather play them for 5 minutes,” Sembach said. “When we finally attacked there we had a beautiful look at the basket, and it just missed.

“When we’ve had powerhouse teams I’ve always tried to speed the game up because the more possessions favor you, and when you’re the underdog it favors you to shorten the game. I think we have a good team, but they have a really good team.”

Vikings coach Chad Kiser was perfectly content to keep the Vikings packed into their zone. When Sembach tried the same tactic early in the first quarter, Kiser eventually had his players come out of the zone.

“They wanted to control the pace and slow it down, which was fine,” Kiser said. “I think he wanted to limit possession and hit a big shot and close the gap, but we did a nice job in the fourth quarter of running the offense.”

The first points of the final period weren’t scored until LaBrae’s Carl Brown made one of two foul shots at the 3:07 juncture. By then the Tigers (7-9 and 6-2 in the AAC) needed a quick burst of points while keeping the Vikings (12-3 and 7-0) off the scoreboard.

The plan showed signs of possibly working when Ozzie Hawkins and Dale Kernen made consecutive jumpers to cut the deficit to 38-32. Aldridge, who scored 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds, then made a definitive statement with a spin, baseline move topped off by a dunk.

Marcell Richardson made two free throws for the Vikings with less than one minute to play to push the lead to a safe 10 points.

“They tried to slow us down and get us out of our style because we like to get it up and down,” Aldridge said. “The first half we slowed down and worked on fundamentals and executed on the offensive end. On the defensive end we had to stay with our fundamentals because they were waiting for us to make a mistake to beat us.”

The worst thing that happened to Sembach’s strategy was a poor first quarter by the Tigers, who trailed 9-0 and entered the second quarter on the short end of a 9-3 score. Newton Falls was never able to assume a lead. The Tigers trailed 19-12 at halftime.

“We weren’t going to play their game,” Sembach said. “Their game is played in the paint with Aldridge, and with their size we don’t have much of a chance. Other than starting out horribly offensively, I thought we executed tremendously the rest of the game getting the types of shots we wanted and hanging right in there.”

Hawkins displayed quickness and a good shot off the dribble to score 14 points.

Chris Clevenger came off the bench in the third quarter and drove to the basket for three key fielders as LaBrae captured one of its goals in securing a share of the AAC National Division crown.

“We talked about it before the game of not letting them come into our home floor and tying up the conference,” Kiser said.

The Tigers were glad to be in position to tie the Vikings entering the game.

“From where we’ve come this year, to have an opportunity to play for first place is a little bit of an accomplishment,” Sembach said.

Newton Falls is at Garfield Tuesday. LaBrae is at Champion Friday.