Eyes wide open for LaBrae

You look at Saturday night’s pictures of 6-foot-7 LaBrae High School junior Peyton Aldridge and two-time Division III All-Ohioan, the face of the Vikings boys basketball team, against Beachwood.

His eyes – popped open like former San Francisco 49ers running back Roger Craig before barreling into the trenches of the battling offensive and defensive lines – were focused on the task ahead.

Aldridge’s eyes were not the only ones zoned in during last week’s regional appearance at one of the best venues to play high school basketball – the Canton Memorial Fieldhouse.

Each set of the Vikings’ players eyes were glaring and eventually staring down its opponents.

LaBrae (24-3) made its niche in the fieldhouse by dominating Oberlin in the semifinals and No. 8 Beachwood in the final – sending the Vikings to state for the first time in school history. They beat them by an average of 26 points.

LaBrae’s story continues Thursday when it plays Versailles (22-5), Thursday at the Jerome Schottenstein Center in Columbus. Tip-off of the Division III state semifinal is at 2 p.m.

The Vikings started humbly this season – tasting defeat against Poland in overtime, seeing Brookfield rally and being dominated by a strong West Middlesex (Pa.) team on Jan. 20 in Youngstown.

The final of the three defeats would be LaBrae’s last as the Vikings rolled off 15 straight – including a memorable double-overtime Division III Howland district final victory against Ursuline, a team that the Vikings should never take off their schedule.

The two teams played earlier in the season with LaBrae coming away with a two-point win at Struthers in early December.

The Vikings, which wanted to get back to regionals since their 2009 appearance, always fell short that last couple of seasons in districts.

This year was different – much different.

LaBrae’s current 15-game win streak might have been sparked in game two of the run – a Sunday morning win against Division IV powerhouse Malvern in overtime. It was a marquee game for Marcell Richardson – a key piece to this Vikings team. He had 17 points in the Malvern win.

Along the way, the team began to solidify – led by Aldridge’s double-double average of 19.8 points and 11.6 rebounds.

Aldridge, who is being recruited by Davidson, Boston College and a majority of the Mid-American Conference schools, averaged 27.5 points per game in the Oberlin and Ursuline (district final) victories. Then, he had 14 points, 17 rebounds and seven blocked shots in the Beachwood victory.

His teammates have bought into Aldridge’s vision.

Thursday, the Vikings will go in with eyes wide open to the Division III state semifinal.