COLUMBUS — Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph moved one step away from OHSAA history Friday, as the second-ranked Vikings (22-7) advanced to the Division III state championship game after dispatching Columbus Bishop Ready 55-40 at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus.
VASJ has won state titles in Divisions I, II and IV, the last of which coming in 2013 over Leipsic, and a win in Saturday’s title game would make them the first school in Ohio history to win a state championship in all four divisions of high school boys basketball.
“They made shots in the first half,” said Vikings mentor Babe Kwasniak of the closer-than expected win. “They did a heck of a job screening us in the first half.”
Kwasniak is looking to claim his second state title, a feat that would match his father, Tedd, who guided VASJ to back-to-back titles in 1994-95.
The Vikings, led by Northeast Lakes District Player of the Year Brian Parker’s 17 points and 10 rebounds, led just 40-35 after three quarters, but a scoring drought by the Silver Knights in the game’s final eight minutes in which Ready did not score until 2:45 remained in the fourth quarter on a Jimmy Hanley bucket.
“They really packed it in, which opened it up for our shooters,” explained Parker. “But that’s the best defensive team we’ve played all year.
National top-10 player and 6-10 post standout Carlton Bragg added 11 points and seven boards, while Maurice Johnson added 11 and eight, respectively. 6-8 junior Derek Pardon had five blocks in the post for VASJ, all of which came in the second half.
The Silver Knights (21-6) fell short in their quest to gain a chance to win their first state title since 1973, as Ready shot just 6-of-31 in the second half (19 percent) and 15-of-53 for the game (28 percent).
Led by Josh Gantz’s seven points and six boards, the Silver Knights were unable to place any players into double figures in the scoring column.
“They’re a difficult team to score against,” lamented Ready coach Don Worstell of his team’s offensive woes. “If you go inside, they’re so long and will alter shots.”
“It was definitely our defense,” explained Gantz on what kept the Silver Knights in the game for the first three quarters. “Our game plan was to shut down their big kids. To guard them alone we had no chance. That made them go out of their game plan (to pound it inside) because they weren’t getting their shots.
A stingy Ready defense, allowing just 38 points per contest in tournament play entering the state semifinal, held VASJ nearly 20 points below their season scoring average (74.3 ppg), but was unable to take advantage of 13 Viking miscues.
Villa Angela-St. Joseph will face off against either Lima Central Catholic (23-4) or St. Bernard Roger Bacon (22-4) in the Division III state title game at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday.