Villa Angela-St. Joseph coach Babe Kwasniak has just one goal this season – to hoist the Division III state championship trophy in late March.
However, if along the way the Vikings were to win the NCL White title that would be just fine with Kwasniak and all the fans of the Columbia blue and red.
VASJ took a big step in its charge toward the league crown on Jan. 23 as the Vikings pulled away from rival Cleveland Central Catholic in the pivotal fourth quarter for an emphatic 81-65 win.
Coming off its first loss of the season on Jan. 19 vs. national power Oak Hill Academy in Springfield, Mass., VASJ rebounded nicely in front of a standing room only crowd at Viking Village.
Led by 25 points from seniors Carlton Bragg and Brian Parker, the Vikings (10-1, 4-0) won Friday's showdown and improved to 8-0 in games played in the state of Ohio and 5-0 at home.
"It feels really good coming off a hard loss," Parker said of Monday's defeat to Oak Hill Academy at the Spalding Hoophall national showcase in Massachusetts. "I appreciate coming back to our Village and getting a victory with our crowd behind us."
The Vikings were able to establish control of the game which they never relinquished late in the second quarter as they closed the half on a 15-2 run to head to halftime up, 36-24. Parker scored 14 in the first half.
CCC (10-2, 3-1 NCL) closed to within 53-48 starting the fourth, but a critical 11-2 run by VASJ keyed by point guard Mo Johnson essentially put the win away for the Vikings.
"The only thing important to me is to be the last guy standing in March," VASJ coach Babe Kwasniak said. "I have one goal, and that is to get the school the sixth state championship. But, our guys have goals they want to achieve and that’s great. Winning the league is just one of those on the way to the ultimate goal of winning in Columbus.
“I thought Mo made some outstanding plays (in the crucial fourth-quarter run). (CCC) Coach (Jeremy) Holmes was his AAU coach, and I think they were trying to pressure him a little bit. I think Mo was the difference. I think Mo made big plays down the stretch. I've said this so many times that maybe he's not the best point guard in the state, but he's the best point guard for us."
With CCC trailing 57-50 in the fourth quarter, the Ironmen were called for an intentional foul, which gave the Vikings two free throws and the ball. Parker hit both free throws, and then Johnson scored, got fouled and hit a free throw to give the Vikings a 62-50 lead.
VASJ put the game away at the foul line with another strong performance (24 of 29).
Ironmen junior Tervell Beck led his team with 16 points. Antwon Lillard scored nine of his 14 points in the first half. Kameron Locklear came off the bench to score 16 points for the Ironmen.
Parker added seven rebounds and four assists to go with his 25 points, and he played tenacious defense on Lillard. Bragg scored 21 of his 25 in the second half. Simon Texidor scored 12 points and Dererk Pardon added 10 for the Vikings – ranked No. 1 in the latest Ohio AP Division III state poll and No. 9 nationally by USA Today.
"They (CCC) are a very talented team, and they could have taken the lead, but we played a lot of tough games, and we know how to win,” Parker said.
There isn’t much time to enjoy the win for VASJ as the Vikings return to the court less than 24 hours later to take on MacDuffie School (Mass.) at the Dunk4Diabetes Shootout at Walsh University at 8:15 p.m.