An emotional beginning did not lead to a happy ending on Senior Day for the Villa Angela-St. Joseph Vikings.
The unbeaten, nationally ranked Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary Fighting Irish had a lot to do with that.
VASJ honored its eight senior captains before the showdown with Akron SVSM on Feb. 22, but the emotions did not carry over into victory for the home team in front of a standing room only crowd at Viking Village as the Fighting Irish remained undefeated with an 89-76 win in a showdown of two of Ohio’s best teams.
The game was originally scheduled for Feb. 21, but was moved to Sunday afternoon because of the weather. Akron SVM came in as the No. 1 team in the AP Division II state poll and VASJ entered as the No. 1 team in D-III.
“I’ve got to hand it to (Akron SVSM),” VASJ coach Babe Kwasniak said. “There were a lot of scenarios I had in my head. But that was not one of them, just getting lambasted the way we did. That never occurred to me that that could happen.
“I was an (emotional) mess in chapel trying to talk to these guys. These seniors mean so much to me. There was a lot of emotion … I would rather lose with these guys than win with any other team, that is how important they are to me and to this school, but that is no excuse. Absolutely no excuse, but we were just so amped, maybe too much. It isn’t like football. You can’t go out and play like that. We missed shots we usually don’t miss. But, again, the bottom line is they made shots and played well and we got or teeth kicked in. Sometimes in life, that makes you better and I hope that is the case going into the state tournament.”
The Vikings (15-3) were in a 16-5 hole in the first quarter, minutes after jumping to a 5-4 lead, due to numerous missed shots in the paint followed by easy transition buckets for the Fighting Irish (20-0).
Akron SVSM led, 24-12, at the end of one quarter and VASJ never got closer than eight points the rest of the game, trailing by 14 at the half before mounting a mini-charge in the fourth quarter.
“No one is trying to miss layups,” Kwasniak said. “I think we looked a little gassed. You’ve got to give them credit. You win with class, you lose with class, and we got beat today.
“Offensively, this is as good a group as I’ve coached, and we had 27 points in the first half. A lot of that was due to the fact that we weren’t stopping them. … Until the final minutes of the fourth quarter, I never thought we were going to lose the game. That is how much I think of this group.”
Henry Baddley led the Fighting Irish – ranked No. 3 nationally – with 29 points and Josh Williams added 18 for SVSM, who put nine players in the scorebook.
Carlton Bragg, a Kansas recruit, led VASJ with 23 points. Brian Parker scored 17, Dererk Pardon had 16 and Simon Texidor chipped in with 12 for the Vikings, who will play three games in in four days (Trinity, St Edward, Cleveland Central Catholic) and could play four depending on the reschedule date for an NCL White game against St. Thomas Aquinas.
“First and foremost, we want to commend Coach (Kwasniak) and his team,” SVSM coach Dru Joyce II said. “They have a great team and we know what it is like to have that big target on their back, and I know they had one, too.”
Joyce said getting off to a fast start was critical, particularly on the road.
“It’s major,” Joyce said. “You get down in an environment like this — I don’t even want to think about it, how it would have been, trying to climb out of that hole. To come out, and to be aggressive … they believe, and they made shots, so it was great.”
VASJ made a run in the second half, but a charging call on a dunk by Bragg coupled with key baskets by the Fighting Irish stemmed the tide.
Vikings point guard Mo Johnson was prepared for Akron SVSM’s talent, but was a little shocked by his team’s performance.
“I wasn’t surprised because I knew most of these kids growing up, played against them a lot,” Johnson said. “I knew that they were great together and could move the ball. But, I’ll say, I was a little surprised at how we came out. I thought we were going to come out better, but we didn’t. Our second half we played OK, but hopefully next time, we’ll play the whole game.”
Grudzinski said the team is trying to keep things in perspective, and while it was a difficult afternoon, there is plenty of goals to look forward to this season starting with a sectional final at Viking Village in the D-III state tournament on March 6 against either Gilmour or Cleveland MLK.
“It is definitely disappointing, but we have to look ahead and work on the little things and get better,” Grudzinski said.