CANTON - On the same day that a new pope was elected in Vatican City, LaBrae's Peyton Aldridge put on a performance that won't get him closer to canonization, but could lead him to Cantonization.
Those present at the Canton Memorial Field House Wednesday night, the long-time site of the Division III regional tournament, will be talking about the 6-foot-7 junior from LaBrae for quite a while. Aldridge scored 28 points on 13 of 17 shooting, pulled down 14 rebounds, had four assists and two blocked shots. More importantly, he led the Vikings to their first regional final ever via a 75-52 victory over Oberlin.
LaBrae (23-3) will meet Beachwood here Saturday night with a trip to Columbus for the state tournament on the line. The Bison defeated Louisville St. Thomas Aquinas, 54-50, in yesterday's first game.
LaBrae’s Peyton Aldridge (10) reacts after being fouled while dunking the basketball against Oberlin on Wednesday night. Teammate John Richards (23) looks on.
"They've got a goal in mind," said LaBrae coach Chad Kiser. "They have 23 wins, the most ever here, and are going to the regional final for the first time in school history. We want to go to Columbus. We're on our way if we can continue to work together."
They worked together very well against the Phoenix. Seven different players had at least two assists and five different ones made 3-pointers.
But as much as the Vikings are not a one-man team, there is little debate as to who The Man is.
"Anytime we get the ball in Peyton's hands it's a good thing," Kiser said. It's tough to match up with him. Not many teams can."
Aldridge had 11 points in the first quarter which ended with LaBrae in front 15-8. He followed that up with five points, five rebounds and three assists in the second frame as the Vikings reached the locker room with a 32-21 lead.
Oberlin coach Kurt Russell fell just short of kissing his ring while praising Aldridge.
"He's the real deal," Russell said. "He's an excellent ballplayer, inside and out. I thought maybe we could double-team him, bring someone on the back side. But he's just so long and athletic. He just caused us so many problems."
The only time LaBrae seemed remotely in any danger came late in the second quarter. The Vikings opened up the period with a 17-5 run. John Richards' two foul shots made it 32-13 with 3 minutes, 5 seconds remaining in the half. But the Bison (18-8) scored the final eight points, the last four by senior Jason Moore, to cut their deficit to eight.
"We thought we shouldn't have given up that (8-0) run," Aldridge said. "We were a little disappointed but not upset with ourselves."
While there was no confirmation that white smoke was coming from the Field House, LaBrae's almost-perfect play in the third quarter had most Bison faithful putting up the white flag by the end of the third quarter.
Six different players scored in a third quarter which saw the Vikings stretch their lead to as many as 25 before settling for a 55-33 advantage heading to the final eight minutes.
"In the third quarter when we came out and got up by 13 to 16 points, I felt we just closed the game out," said senior point guard Chris Clevenger. "It's a great feeling."
The Vikings made 9 of 14 field goals in the third quarter and shot 67 percent for the half. In the game, LaBrae made 60 percent of its shots including 50 percent on 3-pointers.
Moore paced the Bison with 17 points, 11 rebounds, two assists and two blocks. Marcus Bailey chipped in a dozen points in a losing effort.
Richards had 10 points and five boards for LaBrae. Carl Brown added nine points and Nate Middleton eight. Marcell Richardson, who suffered a concussion in the district final win against Ursuline, did not start but played quite a bit. He finished with six points, four rebounds and two assists.
"It was great to have him ready to go," Kiser said of Richardson. "He played well. He'll be a key, no doubt about it, on Saturday night."
That will be when the Vikings attempt to extend their history-making season.
"I think about it a lot," Aldridge said of a potential trip to state. "I've been going there every year since I was little. Knowing how great it is I would love to take my team down there."