HOWLAND – Chad Kiser lived a basketball coach’s dream Monday night.
The LaBrae Vikings coach watched a nearly perfect example of team defense in a 55-18 win over the Newton Falls Tigers in a semifinal of the Division III district tournament. Kiser might have pinched himself when the alarm clock went off this morning, wondering if everything that happened last night was real.
The Vikings put on a defensive clinic. Peyton Aldridge constantly denied inside scoring opportunities with his 6-foot-7 presence, and his teammates played a cohesive style that took away outside shots and completely frustrated the Tigers.
“That’s the best defense in the seven years that I’ve been head coach,” Kiser said. “It’s just what we’ve got to do. At this time you have to play defense. You have to have stops. You have to rebound, and we were able to do that as a team. We covered each other; we closed the penetration gaps, and we rebounded.”
It was actually a close game for nearly a quarter and a half, but that changed after Jarred Crowder of Newton Falls made one free throw at the 4:52 mark of the second period to cut LaBrae’s lead to 14-10. The Tigers didn’t score another point until the 5:46 point of the fourth quarter on a 3-point shot by Dale Kernen. By then the Vikings (21-3) had a 39-15 lead.
The only hope the Tigers had of making it a close game was to hit a high percentage of 3-point shots. Instead, they were 3 of 24 from beyond the 3-point arc and 6-of-41 overall from the floor.
“With our lack of size we have a devil of a time scoring inside against LaBrae,” Tigers coach Roy Sembach said.
“I thought we would have to hit at least 40 percent of our 3-point attempts. I think we might have had 40 percent airballs. It was absolutely atrocious. Some of that were nerves. Some of that was poor shooting and lot of it was that LaBrae gets out on you and makes it tough.”
As impressed as Kiser was at the Vikings’ defensive performance, Sembach may have been more impressed.
“People talk about how good LaBrae is and how they score, but the best part of their game is the defensive end,” Sembach said. “They say what a great player Aldridge is. I think as great an offensive player as he is, he’s more of a factor at the defensive end. People always ask me, ‘What are you going to do to stop LaBrae?’ I’ve always been more concerned about what are we going to do to score against LaBrae.”
Aldridge had another steady performance on both ends, finishing with 16 points and 15 rebounds. Carl Brown added 14 points and pulled down five rebounds.
“The coach prepared us well coming out with our game plan telling us what they were going to do,” Brown said. “We knew defense was going to be a big key because every possession was going to count. We knew they were going to hold the ball and buy a lot of time to make the game closer.”
The slow up-and-down pace isn’t a style the Vikings prefer to play. They were able to work the ball inside to Aldridge at times, and Brown scored seven of the Vikings’ final 11 points of the second quarter.
“We took some quick shots a couple of times when we didn’t want to,” Kiser said. “A little bit of frustration. I think that was because it was a slower pace than we want to play. Our guys like to get up and down. When we’re slowing it down, sometimes they get impatient.”
Kernen scored eight points.
The Vikings will play the winner of tonight’s semifinal between Ursuline and Brookfield for the district crown Friday at 7 p.m. Newton Falls finished with a 14-11 record.
“I’m so proud of my team to be 7-9 and finish the season 7-2,” Sembach said. “We could have packed it in and had a losing season, which is rare for us. We got 15 winning seasons in the last 16 years. We won two tough tournament games and won a sectional championship for the sixth straight year. This is a night they’ll be able to quickly forget about.”