Villa Angela-St. Joseph went to the well in a Division III district final on March 13 vs. Beachwood at Garfield Heights High School.
The Vikings were well prepared, well disciplined and well coached against the slow-it-down, deliberate Bison – and now, VASJ is well on its way to another sweet sixteen.
McDonald’s All-American Carlton Bragg scored a game-high 21 points to lead the Vikings to a third consecutive district championship with a 58-39 win over Beachwood.
The decisive win puts the VASJ (19-4) in a D-III regional semifinal against Massillon Tuslaw. The game will be played at the Canton Fieldhouse on Wednesday at 8 p.m.
“I credit (Beachwood coach) Matt Miller for playing a game and a style that gave them a chance to win the game,” VASJ coach Babe Kwasniak said.
"We're intelligent. We're so talented that we don't get credit for the other things. We made some intelligent plays. … The district semifinal (against Elyria Catholic), we were never in danger of losing and there was never any threat or possibility of losing. But, Beachwood played a style of game that gave them a chance to win. What a great coaching job. Hats off to those kids, it isn’t always easy to get kids to play that way.”
Despite the steady approach by the Bison, an explosive first half by Bragg gave the Vikings (19-4) an early cushion. Beachwood scored the first four points of the game and led, 12-10, but Bragg had 17 points at the break, and VASJ held a 30-23 halftime lead over Beachwood (19-6).
The Vikings’ defense was dominant in the second half, as it held Beachwood to just 16 points while opening up a double-digit advantage.
“We have such an arduous schedule and we are so used to playing against elite individual players and great teams that I think our kids are ready for anything, no disrespect to Beachwood,” Kwasniak said. “Our three biggest weapons we have going are we shoot 74 percent from the free throw line, we average 21 assists and we have a 3.68 GPA so we are really smart.”
Bragg, who has now won three straight district championships after losing a heartbreaker to Richmond Heights as a freshman, said it was a mentality and preparation that helped VASJ overcome Beachwood’s slower style of play.
“Coach harped on me to be aggressive, attack the basket and I couldn’t have done any of this without my teammates,” Bragg said. “We play the flow of the game and try to play our game because they wanted to keep the ball away from us.”
Brian Parker scored 12 points and Simon Texidor added 11 for VASJ. Dererk Pardon, a Northwestern recruit, had 8 point for the Vikings and was a game-changer on defense in the paint.