Villa Angela-St. Joseph bounced back from a two-game losing streak in a big way on Feb. 27.
And the Vikings bounced back in championship style.
VASJ won the NCL White Division title for a fourth consecutive season with a 75-66 road win at rival Cleveland Central Catholic, sweeping the Ironmen in the season series and remaining unbeaten in league play.
After losses to Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary and St. Edward earlier in the week, the Vikings (16-4, 8-0) got off to a slow start as the Ironmen built a 20-11 lead after the first quarter.
However, VASJ senior guard Brian Parker scored 18 points for the Vikings, and as coach Babe Kwasniak said, the will to win took over in the reigning Division III co-player of the year.
“The bottom line is Brian Parker was not going to let us lose this game,” Kwasniak said. “He put us on his back. I don’t know how many rebounds and assists he had, but he played probably the best game he has played for us. Brian was unbelievable on both ends of the court.
“I told him in the huddle that we need to get this game, and he just had a look on his face that he was going to get it done. …. He has matured so much throughout his four years playing for us, and he just made so many big plays for us when we needed him to tonight."
Parker led four VASJ players in double figures. Northwestern recruit Dererk Pardon scored 16 points, and McDonald’s All-American Carlton Bragg and senior guard Simon Texidor added 15 each for the Vikings.
Tervell Beck scored 14 points in the first half for Cleveland Central Catholic (17-4, 7-2), and finished with a game-high 26. The Ironmen led by three at the half, but the Vikings rallied in the second half and put the game away with an impressive fourth quarter.
VASJ outscored CCC, 45-32, over the final 16 minutes of play.
“I told the guys we needed to get back to having fun and playing basketball,” Kwasniak said. "This is a huge deal for these guys, to win four conference championships in a row is no small feat.
"It means a lot because we were able to go beat a very good team. These guys take so much unfair criticism, but they did a great job of bouncing back. I love this team as much as any of my teams, and nights like tonight is why."
VASJ, the 2014 Division III state runner-up, will open tournament play on March 6 in a sectional final against either Gilmour or Cleveland MLK.