Team effort leads Vikings to regional semifinal


The smile on Peyton Aldridge’s face in the final seconds of double overtime against Ursuline in the Division III district final on Saturday night spoke a thousand words.

Though he didn’t speak anything, anyone looking at the 6-foot-7 junior knew what he was thinking: We’re going to Canton.

It wasn’t easy, and it took 8 extra minutes of basketball, but LaBrae pulled off the victory, 68-61, for the school’s first district title since 2009 – and the first trip to Canton for the LaBrae standout.

“This is the best feeling ever,” Aldridge said. “Just to know all that hard work paid off. It was a release knowing that we got it.”

There wasn’t much Aldridge didn’t do against the Fighting Irish, and proved to many why he is the two time Northeast Inland Division III District Player of the Year. He led all scorers with 27 points, led all players with 12 rebounds, had three steals, three blocks and two assists in the victory. Aldridge shot 50 percent from the field and was 9 of 10 from the free-throw line.

“Someone had the nerve to say to me that Peyton Aldridge isn’t that good,” Irish coach Keith Gunther said. “Well, I’ll tell you what. That’s probably the best player we’ve had here since (Warren G. Harding’s) Desmar Jackson.”

As impressive as Aldridge was – including his dunk that was called back on a questionable charge call – what impressed more was what the players around him did to lead the Vikings to the district title.

Marcell Richardson finished with 12 points, but none were more important then the two free throws he made at the end of regulation. Down by two, and Ursuline on a 6-0 run, Richardson made his way to the line with a chance to tie the game if he nailed two free throws – which he did and gave the Vikings another life.

In the second overtime, LaBrae point guard Chris Clevenger posted up for a 3-point shot that fell off the mark. But Clevenger, who maxes out at 5-foot-9, threw his body up for the offensive rebound, kicked the ball out to Aldridge, who drained a collegiate-range 3-pointer to give the Vikings the spark they needed to start what would be the final overtime.

They weren’t the only two – John Richards scored 11 points, Carl Brown had seven points and five rebounds and Nate Middleton was scrappy inside against the Irish.

“Everybody did his job,” Brown said. “I don’t think it was our best offensive game, but we played good defense. It was a tough, hard game. Marcell went to the line and made two clutch free throws.”

In reality, though Aldridge led in all categories, all of the Vikings played a hand in the victory on Friday, which was impressive because many didn’t know what this LaBrae team would be like this season. Losing players like Matt Szorady and Carrington Herron to graduation put pressure on the other players to replace what was lost and take the Vikings to the next level.

Next level accomplished. Next step: Oberlin in a Division III regional semifinal.