COLUMBUS - Anyone who scans the stands at the Jerome Schottenstein Center during the state basketball tournament is sure to see hundreds of little boys. Many of these are glassy-eyed, awed at the event in front of them and wishing to someday be on the court playing for a state title.
Peyton Aldridge was one of these boys. He was there when players like LeBron James and O.J. Mayo led their teams to championships.
Like most of the other kids he dreamed of someday taking the court with his team in the state tournament.
Tribune Chronicle / Michael Taylor
LaBrae’s Peyton Aldridge drives against Versailles’ Chad Winner. Aldridge finished with a team-high 23 points in the 64-52 loss.
"I've been wishing for it every day since I was little," Aldridge said.
Thursday afternoon Aldridge's wish came true. The LaBrae junior was instrumental in getting the Vikings to their first final four in school history. While the end result - a 64-52 Division III semifinal loss to Versailles - was not the way he imagined it would end, Aldridge lived out his dream.
"It was great walking out on that court," said the 6-foot-7 junior. "To be here with all our great fans was special."
The loss certainly could not be pinned on Aldridge. He finished with 23 points, nine rebounds, three blocked shots and three assists. Truth be told, the outcome was more about the Tigers' play (especially defensively in the second half) than any LaBrae deficiencies.
Aldridge had 16 points at the half on 7-of-9 shooting including 2 of 2 on 3-pointers. The Vikings held a 37-33 edge at intermission.
But Versailles switched to a 2-3 matchup zone in the second half, primarily to stop Aldridge's dribble penetration and to get a hand in his face outside the 3-point arc. It worked as designed as Aldridge was held to just six shots attempts, half of those 3-pointers.
"Aldridge is a great player," Tigers coach Scott McEldowney said. "He hit a lot of tough shots in the first half. In the second half we tried to keep the ball out of his hands. We told them to try to get into his body and break him off stride. When we could move our feet and get a body on him we did a better job."
When other teams design their defense to stop one guy it's the mark of a great player. Versailles sophomore Kyle Ahrens, who led his team with 21 points and has played against Aldridge in AAU, said stopping him was key to the victory.
"I thought we did really well (on him)," Ahrens said. "He started hitting that jump shot in the first half. After we went zone and got a hand in his face he started missing. That's when we went on our run. He's a great player though.
LaBrae coach Chad Kiser is thrilled to have a building block like Aldridge, who made first team All-Ohio the last two years, for another season.
"It helps having Peyton back," Kiser said. "And if he wants to stay one more year (after his senior season) we'll talk to the OHSAA and see if they'll let him. No one in the state works harder than he does. He's a prime example of what younger players need to do to get better."
Aldridge said LaBrae's sensational season will help the program going forward.
"It does wonders. Now people want to come watch us. Hopefully the younger players coming back work hard so we can keep it going."