COLUMBUS - Scott Maag and his Leipsic Vikings prefer an up-tempo style of basketball. They're going to have an opportunity to show that like they've never had before this afternoon at Value City Arena.
The on-the-go Vikes turned back Lancaster Fairfield Christian 61-58 in a Division IV state boys basketball semifinal here Friday. Their bonus prize for that effort is a 4:30 p.m. matchup with their most athletic challenge of the season when they take on Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph for the championship.
The VASJ version of Vikings gained their berth by crushing Troy Christian 67-36 in Friday's preliminary Division IV game.
Zach Kuhlman, who led Leipsic with 24 points, hit a 3-pointer to give his team a 33-32 lead with 1:34 to go in the first half. As it turned out, the Vikings were on top for good at that point.
But there was never a comfort zone with that. Leipsic led by as many as seven but watched the margin shrink to three at 58-55 with 1:38 to play. They survived two turnovers and two missed free throws over the next minute because the Knights were unable to hit any of three good looks.
"Wow," Maag said to open the postgame press conference. "We have got a great group of kids who battle every day. They don't care who the high scorer is; they just care about winning the ballgame. When you have that, you can catch lightning in a bottle.
"The fast tempo, that's the way we want to play the game," he said. "I don't think we'll have any trouble (getting a similar approach today)."
Just as it has done throughout the year, the Vikings (25-4) managed several easy baskets off transition. Better yet, they picked up a half dozen layups simply by beating the Knights down the floor after a Fairfield basket.
Scouting that approach is one thing. Dealing with it is quite another.
"They were flying out of there," said Fairfield Christian coach Roger Hooper, whose own approach is anything but walk-it-up-the-floor. "They're the only team that has done that to us. We knew that is what they wanted to do and we had to adapt to it. But, yeah, they got some easy ones."
Kuhlman had 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting at the half. He finished at 10-for-15 with four 3-point goals.
"Zach knows when he's in, it's his job to let it go," Maag said. "He wants the green light and sometimes he'll take bad shots but you've got to take the good with the bad. Zach knocked down some big shots for us tonight."
Season leader Devin Mangas added 13 points but it was a struggle as he managed 3-of-14 from the field with eight turnovers. But he also had seven rebounds, four assists, a block and a steal. Austin Brown battled foul trouble but managed nine points and five rebounds.
"Last year in the tournament we made an early exit and we made a pact this summer that we're going to be the last team playing," Maag said. "I don't think anybody else besides us believed that would happen. We were going to be the last team playing in March and, by golly, we're the last team playing in March."
Second-team All-Ohioan Steven Carpenter led the Knights with 26 points, six assists and three steals. Zach Sullivan scored 13 and Justin Potochnik 12.
BOYS TO MEN - It was the pre-tournament conclusion of many that Villa Angela-St. Joseph would be the best team on the Value City Arena floor this weekend regardless of division.
Still, it seemed a bit premature if only in a formal sense when the online stats service for media went ahead and updated records for the Vikings and Troy Christian with four minutes of their semifinal game still to be played.
Villa Angela-St. Joseph, an 86-79 winner over Division II finalist Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary during the regular season, was as dominant as expected in officially running its record to 24-4.
Troy Christian (26-3) went long distance in offering an early challenge. The Eagles hit five of their first seven 3-point attempts and five different players made the connections.
They led the Vikings 12-8 at one point before watching VASJ score the last seven of the quarter for a three-point edge at the break. And the second quarter remained competitive though the margin grew to 29-22 at the half.
"We knew that VASJ would be well-prepared and that they were very talented," Troy Christian coach Ray Zawadski said. "I believe that the gameplan that we put into play was actually working initially. We were able to create some three-on-twos at the other end. Our kids were shooting with confidence."
But with the likes of 6-foot-7 Cleveland State recruit Demonte Flannigan roaming inside and Evansville-bound point guard Duane Gibson Jr. running the show in the backcourt, the end was near. A supporting cast that features 6-foot-9 Carlton Bragg and 6-7 Dererk Pardon, both sophomores, doesn't hurt.
The two combined for 10 points in the third period, when VASJ pushed its lead to 43-30 and the Vikings scored the first 13 points of the fourth quarter to turn it into a rout.
"I thought Troy Christian was as good as any Division IV team we have played," VASJ coach Babe Kwasniak said. The teams in that list include two regular-season foes and now six tournament opponents. Columbus Africentric fell to his club 67-58 in the season-opener and no other Division IV team has come closer than 20.
"We knew we weren't going to win by 41-and-a-half points or whatever it is we're averaging in the tournaments," he said of the Eagles' first-half challenge. "But it's not like we haven't been in games before. Those kids made shots and we were in their face. Give them credit, but it's not like we haven't faced that sort of thing."
Flannigan had 26 points and five rebounds while Gibson Jr. added 14 points, six rebounds, nine assists and five steals. The Vikings had 34 rebounds, more than double the 16 Troy Christian managed.
"In the second half, we had some tired legs; our 3s were coming up a little short," Zawadski said. "And we couldn't get back on defense. They converted almost every transition bucket that they needed at critical times of the game and the lead exploded real quick.
"Their two Division I players shot 16-of-20 from the field and it's tough to beat somebody that's shooting 80 percent," he said. "I knew the rebounding would be bad but I didn't think it would be quite as bad as it was."
Spencer Thomas had nine points and Nathan Kirkpatrick and Grant Zawadski each had eight for the Eagles.