End of an era

HOWLAND – There will be plenty of stories about the outstanding high school basketball career of LaBrae Vikings senior star Peyton Aldridge in the years to come.

Monday night wasn’t the time to start weaving those tales. It was a night to celebrate the Girard Indians, who displayed their trademark grit and resilience in staving off a 30-point effort by Aldridge in a 64-53 win over the top-seeded Vikings in the semifinals of the Division III district.

The third-seeded Indians never trailed after taking a 4-2 lead. They led by as many as 15 points and were able to hold back multiple runs by the Vikings.

“We’ve been a resilient team all year,” Indians coach Craig Hannon said. “When it doesn’t look like it’s going to go our way, we find a way to make it go back our way.

“Those are teams that are easy to coach because we know they’re going to take care of business on the floor.”

The Indians (20-3) will play the winner of tonight’s semifinal between Newton Falls and Ursuline for the district crown Friday at 7 p.m.

It was clear throughout play that Girard’s balance was a bit too much for the one-man gang of Aldridge, who stepped up his play after a rare scoreless first quarter in which LaBrae fell behind, 13-2.

“All their players do their roles, starting with both Jimmy and Evan Standohar,” Aldridge said. “They both played really well. I thought Jimmy did a great job controlling the game. He made it hard to trap him.

“They’re all-around really hard to stop. If you help on penetration, they’re going to kick and knock down the shots.”

The trio of Tyler Kilbourne and the Standohar cousins combined for 45 points – 18 by Kilbourne, 14 by Jimmy and 13 by Evan. All made key shots at various times, but Evan’s contributions in scoring nine points in the fourth quarter were particularly noticeable following a run by the Vikings that reduced the Girard lead to 41-34 after three quarters.

“That timeout we had before (the end of the third period), coach Hannon said, ‘It’s your time now. You have to look for your shots.’ Every time coach talks, we all listen. I took that as motivation, and it came out great for us.”

Evan opened the final quarter with two quick fielders on drives to extend the lead to 45-34. Girard pushed the advantage to 14 points, only to see Aldridge score seven of the next 11 points for the Vikings to cut their deficit to 55-47.

A fielder by LaBrae’s J.T. Wolke made it 55-49, but Kilbourne made two free throws. After another fielder in what was an 11-point period for Aldridge, the Indians sealed the deal by scoring seven of the final nine points.

The Vikings (18-6) opened the scoring on an inside shot by Blake Sprague, but it came after two easy misses. That told the story of what was coming as LaBrae didn’t score again until Aldridge opened the second quarter with six unanswered points.

LaBrae, which was never able to get all its parts in working order, trailed 26-15 at halftime.

“We were hesitant to shoot the ball,” Vikings coach Chad Kiser said. “Not just 3s, but anywhere. We short-armed a bunch. The last game we shot the ball well. We knocked down the 3s. We’re young. I was talking to Craig before the game and he said, ‘This is old hat for you.’ For Peyton it’s old hat, and Justin Jenkins was varsity last year, but after that there wasn’t one other guy that played varsity.”

While the Indians get ready for the district final, Aldridge will prepare for a career at Davidson College.

“He’s maybe the best player in our area for as long as I can remember,” Kiser said. “His versatility and ability to do everything – in the classroom and on the floor. For me at this level, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime kid. It will be great to say I got to coach him.”

Hannon summed it up best for any coach who has faced Aldridge the last four seasons:

“What’s great about a kid like Peyton is that he’s so unselfish and gets everyone else involved,” Hannon said. “Every superlative that’s been used for the kid is true.

“I want to say this because he’s beaten my butt since I’ve been here – he’s a great teammate and a great ambassador for high school basketball. If he’s not playing against you, you root for a kid like that.”