Villa Angela-St. Joseph started slow and trailed at halftime against national power Arlington Country Day on Jan. 2 at the Cancer Research Classic at Wheeling Jesuit University.
The Vikings needed a spark, so VASJ coach Babe Kwasniak turned to a former Viking to help inspire a current player who might have been off the radar at such a high-profile event.
“I told (assistant coach) Ashen Ward (Class of 2008) we needed to have Jeff (Grudzinski) ready to shoot especially when we got the ball inside and we were ready to kick it out and he needed to get his mind right and prepared to shoot,” Kwasniak said. “Coach Ward told me, ‘I got it’ and Jeff responded in a big way.”
Grudzinski, a multi-sport standout, knocked down four 3-pointers in a critical stretch of the third quarter, and Marist recruit Brian Parker scored 16 of his team-high 18 points after halftime to help VASJ remain undefeated with a 69-67 win over the Florida powerhouse.
The Vikings (7-0) fell behind, 20-6, but rallied to within 29-23 at halftime. Grudzinski caught a hot hand in the third quarter, scoring all of his 12 points, to help VASJ erase the deficit and take a two-point lead into the final 8 minutes of play.
“Jeff Grudzinski is going to remember this game for the rest of his life, and he should. But, what is so great about this team is the bench was so excited for him because Jeff is a guy all the players on this team like and root for, and he was huge for us tonight,” Kwasniak said. “The 3s he hit were like touchdowns in a football game. Any time he hit one it was just that big for our team.”
Parker had 18 points to lead the Vikings and was named MVP of the game. Senior forward Carlton Bragg – one of the top recruits in the country – scored 16 points, Dererk Pardon (Northwestern recruit) had 15 and Tre’Von Williams-Scruggs came off the bench to provide and energy critical minutes for VASJ.
Jahshire Hardnett scored a game-high 19 points for Arlington Country Day. Mario Kegler added 18 for the Apaches.
VASJ opened up a 9-point lead in the fourth quarter before ACD rallied, but the Vikings closed out the victory for its second win against a national power after defeating Archbishop Carroll in the season opener on Dec. 6 in Kentucky.
“It was a game where our resolve was tested and the guys responded,” Kwasniak said. “More than experience and having seniors – and there is no substitute for experience – our guys know each other so well and trust each other and they knew what we had to do to win this game.
“We just made a few more game-winning plays than they did. ACD is so talented and they are longer than we are so it was a challenge, but I loved the way we answered everything they did tonight and really the way we overcame a couple of plays down the stretch to get the win. Against these nationally prominent teams, you do what you have to do to stack Ws and we have been able to do that against Bishop Carroll and ACD.”
Senior guard Simon Texidor chipped in with 8 points for the Vikings in the win over Arlington Country Day.
"We made some really smart basketball plays," Kwasniak said. "I can't stress enough there was an inbounds play where Brian got the ball and hit Jeff for a 3 before ACD was even ready. It was big for us."
VASJ returns to Ohio to take on NCL White foe Trinity on Jan. 9 before returning home to play Mentor at Viking Village on Jan. 10.