One step from state

LEAVITTSBURG – Two of the best players in the state will square off in a Division III regional final tonight at Canton Memorial Fieldhouse.

And that will only be part of the intrigue when LaBrae faces Beachwood, the No. 8-ranked team in the state, at 7 p.m. in the Region 9 championship game.

LaBrae’s Peyton Aldridge and Beachwood’s John Davis III, both juniors, were each named player of the year in their respective districts and earned all-Ohio honors in 2013.

The 5-foot-11 Davis is a lightning-quick point guard who averages 20 points and five assists per game for the Bison (23-3), while the 6-7 Aldridge is a do-it-all guard/forward who registers 20 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and three steals.

The two provide difficult matchups for both coaches.

“There’s really nothing strategically,” said Beachwood coach Jason Pecjak of how they can slow down Aldridge. “You just have to make him work for whatever he gets. Whether it’s off penetration, post up, an offensive rebound – he has to earn it. He’s obviously going to be a focus of ours.”

He won’t be the only player the Bison have to keep an eye on. Part of what makes this game interesting is that the Bison and Vikings aren’t just one-man teams. Both have several complementary players around their stars, which makes preparing for this showdown even more difficult.

“Their point guard is as fast as they come with the ball,” LaBrae coach Chad Kiser said. “He’s their main guy. Their offense goes through him, but they’re balanced. Their big guy (6-4 senior Jordan Richardson) is really athletic, and they have a few guys who can shoot the 3, but we’ll still be focused on one guy.”

The Vikings don’t have a choice. Davis’ speed and outside shooting make him a matchup nightmare. Throw in a few 3-point specialists and Richardson, a forward who’s averaging a double-double (11 points, 11 rebounds) and has carried the Bison the last few games, and it’s easy to see why Beachwood has been in the Associated Press’ top 10 all season.

“It’s not going to be a walk in the park,” said Kiser, whose Vikings steamrolled Oberlin, 75-52, in the regional semifinal. “I like our matchup, but they’re definitely not a team overlook – they’re very good. I think it will be a close, exciting game.”

Dealing with Davis and the rest of the Bison, who utilize their team speed with a full-court press, will be quite a task, but Beachwood will be just as occupied with Aldridge and the Vikings.

While Aldridge, a two-time All-Ohio selection, dominated against Oberlin (28 points, 14 rebounds, four assists, two blocks), he had plenty of help. Eight other players scored in the victory, and Vikings’ forward Marcell Richardson didn’t show any ill affects from the concussion he suffered in the district final against Ursuline. That’s a great sign for the Vikings.

With multiple 3-point shooters, good size and strength in Richardson (6-2, 200) and Paul Zigmont (6-2, 185) and complete players like Aldridge and guard Carl Brown, LaBrae appears ready for a battle with the Bison.

“Obviously, Peyton is one of the best players in the state, bottom line,” Pecjak said. “I really like his game, his energy, his skill level and athletic ability. It starts with him, but they have some other veteran guards who can play and a couple kids who can shoot the ball well. They’re really a complete team. They’ve been playing together for the last couple of years, kind of like our guys.”

They may have veteran teams, but Beachwood and LaBrae are both fairly new to the regional final. This is the Bison’s first championship appearance in school history, while LaBrae last reached this point in 1972, when the Vikings lost to Poland.