Too little, too late for LaBrae in loss

LEAVITTSBURG – Jefferson coach Steve French knew LaBrae had a run in them.

Vikings coach Chad Kiser just wished it happened much sooner.

LaBrae rallied from a 17-point deficit in the third quarter to come within one in the last 30 seconds, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the Falcons on Friday, 52-50.

The Vikings trailed, 30-13, early in the third quarter after one of Sage Cantini’s five 3-pointers.

“I told the kids at the beginning they’re going to make a run,” French said. “It’s senior night. They’re a good team at home. You have to expect it and weather the storm. We have to find a way to come out on top.”

Marcell Richardson, who had 10 points, drove the lane with about 2:30 remaining to cut the Jefferson advantage to 43-39.

Then, Cantini took an ill-advised 3-pointer, one of the few of the night, but was bailed out by a late call on LaBrae’s Justin Jenkins, who had 11 points, with 2:21 left.

Cantini, who had a game-high 25 points, canned all three free throws to extend the lead to seven, 46-39.

Following a bucket by LaBrae’s Tariq Drake, Jefferson (13-7, 7-2 All-American Conference, National Division), capitalized on a transition 3 by Cantini to push the lead to 49-41 with 1:53 left.

“He handled the ball under pressure really well,” Kiser said. “For a sophomore, he had one heckuva game. He was their key all night long.”

Then, Cantini floated a shot over the outstretched arms of LaBrae’s 6-foot-8 senior Peyton Aldridge, a shot that rattled around the cylinder and eventually dropped for a 51-48 Falcons’ lead with 35 seconds remaining. Aldridge finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds.

Mike Eakins grabbed an rebound off an Aldridge miss with 28.7 seconds left and was fouled on the putback. Eakins sunk both charity tosses to cut the Jefferson lead to 51-50.

By this time, Jefferson’s 6-7 post David Chase and guard James Jackson fouled out. Enter Wyatt Weyhmeller, who stands 6-8 and posed his own problems to LaBrae.

Sam Hitchcock made one of two from the free-throw line, but missed the back end as LaBrae rebounded and called a timeout with 4.5 seconds left.

Jenkins tried to inbound the ball, but Weyhmeller’s lanky arms swatted the pass into the Falcons’ bench.

LaBrae had one last attempt at either a tie or win, down 52-50.

The Vikings (15-5, 7-2) lobbed a pass over Weyhmeller to Jenkins at halfcourt, who launched a 35-footer that went just right of the rim.

Jefferson outrebounded LaBrae, 34-27, and Chase and Weyhmeller wreaked havoc for LaBrae.

“He’s become a very good player,” French said of Chase. “When you have Wyatt you can bring off the bench, he’s an added dimension with his height.”

The Vikings were 13 of 52 from the floor and 4 of 23 from 3-point range, while Jefferson shot 18 of 51 from the floor and 5 of 13 from 3.

“I think we shot more 3 pointers tonight than we shot all year long,” Kiser said. “We refused to, in the first half, attack the basket. They did a great job of rebounding. It was one and done.

“That was really the difference in the game.”

The Jefferson win puts a logjam atop the AAC National with the Falcons and Vikings a half-game behind Girard (15-3, 8-2) and Campbell (12-6, 8-2).

Girard travels to Jefferson tonight, while LaBrae is at Champion on Tuesday.

Kiser said his team need to rebound from this loss for LaBrae to have a chance to win its fourth straight AAC National title.

“We came out flat, not executing off the bat – getting outworked. Both of our losses we were outworked. That’s something we really have to work on,” Kiser said.