Thunderbirds upset powerful Vikings

COLUMBUS – Someone suggested a David-vs.-Goliath mentality, but Frank Kill was having none of that.

So maybe there is no fitting analogy, but you can score one for the little guys nevertheless – a very big one, in fact – after Lima Central Catholic stoned Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph 64-62 to win the Division III state championship at Value City Arena Saturday afternoon.

“At the beginning of the season, we had a saying back at school: ‘Every champion was once a contender,'” Kill said after his club closed a 25-4 year on the highest note. “Today, we can now finally call ourselves champions.”

It came by a small margin against the biggest of foes. And if not for a couple inches, it would not have come about at all. That was all that was missing when VASJ’s Brian Parker heaved a last-second 60-footer that grazed the rim.

The Thunderbirds gave up a little more than three inches per man in the starting lineups. When coaches went to the bench, it didn’t get any better.

St. Joseph (22-8) had 6-foot-10 Carlton Bragg, 6-foot-8 Dererk Pardon and co-player of the year Parker, who is 6-foot-2 but who plays much bigger. Lima countered with the likes of 5-foot-9 Xavier Simpson and 6-foot-1 Martryce Kimbrough, another co-player of the year.

Had Parker’s attempted miracle found the mark, it would have been the Vikings’ only lead of the day.

But with Kimbrough nailing an opening 3-pointer toward a 10-point first quarter and 22-point night, the Spartans virtually had the upper hand throughout.

Lima Central Catholic led 20-14 at the first stop, and with Kimbrough hitting a couple more 3-pointers and 6-foot-2 Jake Williams stunning the Vikes with three inside hoops, the Spartans pushed the margin to 34-25 at half.

“Really some of those were shots we’d like them to take, high twos and floaters and the like,” Viking coach Babe Kwasniak said. “We put Brian on (Kimbrough) in the second half and he did a nice job. Woulda, shoulda, coulda, maybe we stayed in the zone a little too long.

“But those guards of theirs, they’re not only talented, their basketball IQ is through the roof,” he said. “They have a great understanding of the game and they found ways.”

Parker slowed Kimbrough considerably in the second half, but that’s when Simpson, who had 18 points, three assists and two steals, took over.

Simpson scored eight and Williams added four as Lima stretched the margin to as many as 14 at 41-27 before settling for a 49-41 edge through three.

But the Viking inside strength of Bragg (23 points) and Pardon (17 points, 15 rebounds) wouldn’t go away and down the stretch, it began to wear.

Three-point plays by Parker (15 points) and Pardon narrowed the gap and Bragg drew a foul on his first rebound of the game and hit two foul shots to tie it at 51-51 with 4:31 to go.

The T-birds could have helped their cause considerably with a better effort from the foul line. After making their only two attempts in the first half, they went 12-for-26 the rest of the way.

“Obviously, free throws are simple but what’s simple isn’t always easy,” Kill said. “Free throws are something that everybody misses, but we made enough of them to win.”

The Vikings could never get a lead. Simpson scored six down the stretch, including a crowd-pleasing floater down the lane over Pardon.

“I’ve never been a big fan of the floater, but I loved it today,” Kill said.

Simpson’s foul shot with 11 seconds to go gave LCC a 63-59 lead but Bragg hit a 3-pointer with four seconds left to trim it to one.

Williams (12 points, seven rebounds) was fouled before LCC could inbound. He missed both but rushed in for the rebound and passed to Tre Cobbs. He was fouled and made one free throw.

The Thunderbirds then held their breath as Parker’s three-quarter court try just missed.

“Not in my heart,” Kill said when asked if this win was an upset. “I’ve always said we were the No. 1 team. It’s unfortunate that certain press writers don’t give us the credit or whatever.

“They were 6-10, 6-8, they have the look,” he said. “But it’s not always the look, it’s what’s in the heart. I don’t see this as an upset.

“Were they Goliath? Yeah, by height standards, but we were definitely not David today.”

They are, however, Division III state champions.