Down to the wire
GIRARD – You had to like the odds if you were a fan of the LaBrae Vikings.
Star senior Peyton Aldridge at the foul line shooting three with 0.9 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. It was time to hit the start button on the keyless remotes to warm the cars for the victory ride home.
“I just had to go to the backyard shooting free throws,” Aldridge said of his mental approach. “Relax; take a deep breath and just knock them down.”
Aldridge made the first and third attempts to give the Vikings a 49-47 win over the Girard Indians Friday in a pivotal game in the chase for the All-American Conference National Division title.
The end didn’t come without some controversy. You’d be hard-pressed to find a Girard fan who agreed with the foul by Tyler Kilbourne that sent Aldridge to the line.
“I couldn’t really tell,” Aldridge said. “I might have been bumped. I was in the heat of the moment – just catch and shoot.”
Indians coach Craig Hannon did his best to hold back his frustrations when asked about the final sequence.
“They played great, we played great – both played hard,” Hannon said. “That game doesn’t deserve that ending. It’s a shame they took it out of the kids’ hands.”
The win puts the Vikings (14-3) in the driver’s seat for the National Division crown with a 7-1 record. The Indians (13-3) remain in the hunt with a 7-2 mark in the division.
LaBrae took a 42-40 lead into the fourth period. Girard tied the score at 47-47 when Jim Standohar drove in for a layup following a steal.
Both teams wasted opportunities to take the lead in the late stages. An errant Indians’ pass resulted in a steal for the Vikings, who immediately called a timeout with 7.2 seconds remaining to set up Aldridge’s 3-point attempt.
“We just didn’t execute in the end,” Hannon said. “We should have had the last shot.”
It appeared the Vikings might turn the game into a rout when they scored the first 11 points of the opening quarter and 14 of the first 17. After then it was the Dylan O’Hara show. The Girard junior made two quick 3-point shots to help close the gap to 18-9 at the end of the period. O’Hara added 11 points in the second quarter to finish a 17-point half as the Indians reduced their deficit to 29-23.
“It’s not the way you want to start a game, especially against a good basketball team,” Hannon said. “We battled the rest of the way. I knew it was going to be a tight game, even when they jumped up 11-0. We just had to relax a little bit.”
The Vikings did a better job of eliminating good 3-point looks for O’Hara in the second half. He was held scoreless in the third quarter and made one 3-pointer and two free throws in the fourth quarter to finish with 22 points.
“They put O’Hara on the foul line and popped him and gave them a 4-out and sometimes a 5-out look,” Vikings coach Chad Kiser said. “We didn’t shift to that. When he was on the wing in the first quarter and in the second half we matched up with him pretty well.”
Aldridge had another solid all-around game, leading the Vikings in scoring with 21 points. He pulled down a game-high 14 rebounds and blocked five shots.
“We were excited when we got the lead,” Aldridge said. “They came back and knocked down some big shots and got back in the lead. We had to keep our composure and not let it get to us in a tough environment.”
Deonte Brown scored 11 points for the Indians.