Thursday, July 18, 2024

VASJ routs Ursuline for third straight trip to Final Four

Next stop, Columbus.

Enough said.

Actions speak louder than words, and on March 21, Villa Angela-St. Joseph spoke emphatically with their actions in a resounding 66-45 rout over Youngstown Ursuline in a Division III regional final at the Canton Fieldhouse.

The Vikings overcame a lot of on-the-floor talk and physical play by the Fighting Irish, putting the regional championship away with an impressive third quarter, to punch their third straight ticket to the final four. VASJ will face Columbus Eastmoor in a D-III state semi at the Schottenstein Center on the Ohio State University campus on March 26 at 5:15 p.m.

“I didn’t need to say much to motivate these guys, and sometimes, I don’t need to coach them a whole lot either,” VASJ coach Babe Kwasniak said. “These are my guys. This is a special group. … Tonight, we played a very good basketball team, and we were nasty defensively. When we play like that on defense, we are tough to beat.”

VASJ (21-4) led, 32-23, at halftime and went on a 14-0 run in the third quarter – sparked by a pair of monster dunks by Kansas recruit Carlton Bragg (14 points, 5 blocks) – to assume total control of the game. The Vikings hit their first seven shots of the third quarter and outscored Ursuline, 16-4, in the game-changing frame.

VASJ led, 48-27, at the start of the fourth quarter.

Vikings senior guard Brian Parker (Marist recruit) scored a game-high 21 points and Northwestern recruit Dererk Pardon added 11 points and 20 rebounds to overwhelm Ursuline.

“I like playing physical. They thought they were getting in my head, but they really weren’t. We just sometimes have to remind each other to be smart, play our game and when we did that we were fine,” Parker said.

“Winning three regional titles in a row and getting to Columbus three times just means we won the state as sophomores, we lost in the championship game last year and we need to go down and take care of business this time and bring the trophy back to Northeast Ohio.”

VASJ has won 98 games in five seasons under Kwasniak, including the 2013 Division IV state title. Last year, the Vikings lost in the D-III state championship game to Lima Central Catholic, who is in the other state semi this season facing Dayton Chaminade-Julienne.

Pardon said the physical play of the Fighting Irish was not unusual to the Vikings considering the schedule they have faced this winter, and at halftime, the message was clear to come out and put Ursuline away.

“We talked about the fact we took their best shot in the first half and we were still up and if we played our game and not theirs we would be good,” Pardon said.

“(20 rebounds) is a good game, but any game we win is one of my best games. … This feeling is unreal, now we just have to go take care of business in Columbus.”

Bragg – a McDonald's All-American selection – electrified the crowd and his team with a pair of highlight-reel dunks in the third-quarter surge that the Fighting Irish could not recover from. The second slam was a windmill dunk by Bragg that even Kwasniak was awed by.

“It was something I never tried in a game before,” Bragg said of his dunk.

“After that, the crowd really got into it and we knew then that we had them.”

Simon Texidor added 14 points and point guard Mo Johnson chipped in five and played his usual steady game running the VASJ offense.

In the build-up to the game, Ursuline had referred to VASJ as a Kentucky-type of team and “wanted to see St. Joe’s”.

The motivation was not something Kwasniak needed or used, even though it was not lost on Parker and some of the players.

“Two things about the Kentucky reference and that is we are not undefeated (like 36-0 Kentucky) and the NCL might be a better conference than the SEC,” Kwaniak joked.

“Cleveland Central Catholic is in our league and they beat (Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary) and are going to state. We beat Central Catholic twice.

“People have no idea how tough our schedule was and the level of competition we faced. We play those games to be ready for a night like this and these guys are ready for anything.”
Wright State recruit Mark Hughes led Ursuline with 14 points.

“We were special defensively, maybe as good as we have ever been,” Kwasniak said.

“To get to Columbus three times in a row and that is hard to do. … I told our guys to celebrate. I told them to enjoy this. We have the ultimate goal to go down and win the whole thing, but I know I am going to enjoy this.”

Enough said.

Next stop, Columbus.


Steve Hare
Steve Hare
Steve Hare is the Chagrin Valley Conference's Sports Information Director. He also created and publishes, an online publication dedicated to providing hyperlocal coverage to area high school athletic programs. Hare began covering high school sports for the Lake County News Herald in 1997. Hare attended Willoughby South High School through the middle of his senior year, then graduated from Berkshire High School in Burton in 1986. He played football, wrestled and was an all-Geauga county baseball player (1986). He lives in Chardon with his wife Paulette and their children.

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