LEAVITTSBURG - The schools are located in different counties and there's no common league affiliation to build up a healthy dislike of each other.
Sounds like all the ingredients for a heated rivalry, right? Well, not exactly.
As strange as it might seem, the LaBrae Vikings and Ursuline Fighting Irish have developed quite a rivalry in boys' basketball. The teams met twice last season, including a double-overtime thriller in the Division III district final that was won by the Vikings.
Tribune Chronicle / Michael Taylor
LaBrae’s Justin Jenkins, right, drives to the hoop past Ursuline’s David Collins during their game on Tuesday night. LaBrae won, 60-56.
The rivalry took another step in its evolution Tuesday, and again the Vikings came out on top, 60-56. Odds are the two will meet again for another district crown next March.
"Whether they'll say it or not, they feel that our trip to Columbus could just as easily been them," Vikings coach Chad Kiser said. "We beat them twice last year, and they had a shot at the buzzer in both games to win it, and again tonight down to the wire. You can't be much more evenly matched."
Irish coach and LaBrae graduate Keith Gunther must be wondering what he has to do to find the trick to defeat the Vikings, who followed their district title win last year with a regional championship. The Irish (2-2) appeared primed to get the win when they took advantage of the temporary absence of Vikings' star Peyton Aldridge to score the final nine points of the third quarter in taking a 45-36 lead.
The 6-foot-8 Aldridge, who was given a rest to avoid getting a fourth personal foul, scored the first four points of the fourth quarter to ignite the comeback. LaBrae (4-0) eventually took leads of 48-47 and 51-50 on a three-point play by Aldridge. The Vikings pulled away down the stretch on the strength off a 7-of-8 performance at the foul line by guard Justin Jenkins.
"It was a great game, but that one is a tough one for me to swallow," Gunther said. "You go up nine at the end of three and then you come back and lose the game. Not a great effort defensively in the fourth quarter."
Aldridge was knocked around quite a bit, but he managed to score 23 points and grab 17 rebounds. He was especially strong under the boards in the fourth period, seemingly grabbing every missed shot by the Irish.
"That's part of the game," Aldridge said of the physical play. "You have to adjust from it. You can't get upset about it or anything. You have to keep your head and try to play through it."
Both coaches agreed that Jenkins played a key role from his point guard spot. He scored 13 points, handled pressure well and scored the final nine points for the Vikings, all at the line.
"Jenkins really played well," Gunther said. "I thought he outplayed our point guard (Desmond McElroy) as far as getting to the basket and drawing fouls."
Aldridge scored eight points in the first quarter as the Vikings took a 16-14 lead. David Collins scored eight of his 16 points in the second quarter as the Irish assumed a 28-26 halftime advantage.
Aldridge was whistled for this third foul at the 4:01 mark of the third period. Kiser decided to sit Aldridge late in the period, which opened the door for the Irish to put up a quick nine points.
"It was 1:08 on the clock and Peyton hadn't been substituted for in a long time," Kiser said. "We had just hit a big 3-point play to tie it up. I thought it was the best time (to sub for Aldridge) and go zone and slow them down a little bit. I thought it was the right decision. Hindsight, I guess not."
Mark Hughes led the Irish with 20 points, including four 3-point shots. Marcell Richardson added 14 points to the Vikings' attack.
Gunther went home disappointed but knowing that he might get another shot at the Vikings.
"If things go like I would project, they're going to be a high seed; we're going to be a high seed," Gunther said. "I'm thinking we're going to be on opposite sides of the bracket. I'd love to meet them in the district final."