Team effort

LEAVITTSBURG – The numbering system that basketball coaches use to describe the five positions gets fuzzy when Peyton Aldridge is on the court.

The 6-foot-8 senior is listed as a wing for the LaBrae Vikings, which essentially makes him a 3 or a 4. There are times his height allows him to play like a low-post center, which is 5 on the number chart.

When Aldridge squares up for a perimeter shot, there’s a classic look of a 2 guard, while other times his ability to pass to open teammates would classify him as a 1 or point guard.

In other words, no matter how you juggle the numbers, Aldridge usually plays like a 10. Friday night, the two-time All-Ohio player spent most of the night distributing the basketball to teammates with pinpoint efficiency as the Vikings opened the season with a 60-40 win over the Newton Falls Tigers in an All-American Conference, National Division game.

“A lot of teams like to run a couple of guys at me,” said Aldridge, who finished with 16 points and nine rebounds. “We need our guys to step up and adjust. Be ready to catch and shoot. Be ready to attack when they come because there’s going to be someone open.”

Tigers coach Roy Sembach knew he couldn’t take Aldridge out of the scoring equation, but he could try by smothering him with two defenders. The strategy, of course, means another player will be open. The key was for Aldridge to get the ball in that player’s hands quick enough for open jump shots or perhaps easy inside shots.

Marcell Richardson was a beneficiary, scoring 14 points from near the basket. Collin Phillips scored 11 points, and Caelan Hyland added nine.

“When he was hitting guys and he was setting screens and getting guys open and they were missing shots. It’s real easy for a guy with his offensive ability to force shots when he was double-teamed,” Vikings coach Chad Kiser said. “He didn’t. He believes in his teammates. He kept telling them to stay positive and keep shooting.”

Sembach had no other choice but to collapse his defenders on Aldridge. He knows the damage Aldridge can do if he’s allowed to work solely against one defender.

“It’s impossible to completely take him out,” Sembach said. “He’s not the best high school player I’ve ever seen only because we played against LeBron (James). After that, I don’t know who else we played against that’s better.

“We wanted to do our best to take him out, and then we wanted to play a bunch of guys in the paint to take the paint away. We were willing to live if they made a bunch of outside shots. The thing I was disappointed in was that we let them score quite a bit in the paint.”

The Vikings never trailed after an Aldridge layup broke a 5-5 tie. They led 11-5 after one quarter and 28-12 at halftime. Phillips scored nine points in the third quarter and Aldridge added seven as LaBrae took a 48-30 lead into the final period.

The Vikings thrived on suffocating defensive play in reaching the Division III state semifinals last season. Although there was a loss of seven seniors to graduation, the mix of new players worked well on the defensive end.

“Every day in practice we work on defense and rotation and stuff,” Aldridge said. “We’re all really good friends. Even though it’s the first year of playing together for some of us, I feel through our friendship we have a little bit of chemistry.”

Ozzie Hawkins led the 1-2 Tigers in scoring with 15 points. Jaden Walton was next with 10.

Newton Falls hosts Lordstown Tuesday. LaBrae is at Windham Tuesday.