David vs. Goliath: Ursuline to face VA-SJ

Sometimes it’s best not to do the eyeball test when assessing an upcoming basketball game.

When the Ursuline Fighting Irish watched the Villa Angela-St. Joseph Vikings defeat Canton Central Catholic in a Division III regional semifinal Thursday, they easily could have thought they were watching a college team in action. The Vikings looked like anything but a high school team with 6-foot-10 Carlton Bragg and 6-8 Derek Pardon manning the inside positions.

Standing with Irish players was Ursuline coach Keith Gunther, who faces the task of devising a way to defeat the Vikings in tonight’s regional final at the Canton Memorial Field House starting at 7 p.m.

Gunther knew from the moment VA-SJ moved from Division IV to Division III after winning the D-IV state championship last year that the road to Columbus this season would lead through the Vikings. Consequently, Gunther has scouted VA-SJ several times, knowing that the Irish and Vikings might be on a collision course.

“You know you’re going to be on one- or two-days,” Gunther said. “You also have to prepare for what might happen.”

The Vikings (20-7) might look imposing, but it won’t be enough for Gunther to ask the bus driver to make a U-turn on Interstate 77 today. The Irish (18-8) have been playing extremely well and are carrying the confidence gained after a 74-56 regional semifinal win over Norwayne.

“They’re long, they’re athletic, they’re big,” Gunther said of the Vikings. “All we’ve been talking about all week is the David and Goliath story. We’re going to go over that a lot (Friday) and watch some film.

“You can’t fall into that mode. You have to be confident in yourself that you can make it happen.”

Bragg scored 22 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in the Vikings’ 72-64 win over Central Catholic. Pardon had 14 points and eight rebounds, and Brian Parker added 21 points.

Despite those impressive numbers, the score was much closer than was anticipated. It was almost as if St. Joseph was going through the motions, doing just enough to keep Central Catholic at arm’s length.

“I think at any point they could have exploded,” Gunther said. “They played at a slower pace. They played down to that level. I watched them play some big-time competition and step it up. I’m hoping they take us lightly and play us the same way.”

The Irish will come armed with a hot-shooting Mark Hughes, who scored 27 points against Norwayne. Hughes is playing with a high-confidence level. He made four 3-point shots and was outstanding when putting the ball on the ground and driving to the basket in the semifinal win.

“If we play like this, it’s going to be a good game,” Hughes said shortly after the win over Norwayne. “We’re just going to have to play our game and get stops and make shots, and we’ll be good to go.”

Hughes cracked a smile when asked about the size of the Vikings.

“They’re very impressive to the eye,” Hughes said. “They have bigs that can really score on the interior. We’re going to have to do a real good job of forcing them into tough shots and getting the rebound with their length and size.”

The way the Irish have it figured, Goliath can be brought down.