COLUMBUS – Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph hasn’t been tested much this season when it comes to playing against smaller schools. The Vikings got their test Saturday in the Ohio Division IV state title game and responded emphatically.
VASJ ran away from Leipsic with a 23-6 spurt over the final 4:32 of the third quarter to send the Vikings to an 87-63 victory at Ohio State University’s Value City Arena and the school’s first state championship in 18 years. Senior guard Duane Gibson Jr. led five VASJ players in double figures with 22 points to go along with eight assists, eight rebounds and three steals. He made 10 of 12 shots from the field.
Senior forward Demonte Flannigan added 15 points and 12 rebounds. Sophomore guard Brian Parker also had 15, while classmates Simon Texidor IV and Carlton Bragg had 11 and 10 points, respectively.
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VASJ coach Babe Kwasniak was a player on VASJ title winners in 1991 and ’92, coached by his father Tedd, who is now an assistant under his son.
VASJ (25-4) was ranked No. 2 in the final AP state poll but all four of its losses were against Division I opponents. Since losing back-to-back games to Cleveland St. Ignatius and Shaker Heights, VASJ has now won eight straight games by at least 20 points, including six games by at least 31 points.
Leipsic (25-5) never led in the game but trailed by just two points, 41-39, with 4:48 remaining when senior forward Austin Brown knocked down a pair of free throws. These Vikings were hitting shots and confounding VASJ with their ability to stick around.
Back-to-back threes by Texidor started the decisive run for VASJ. It took VASJ just 1:30 to push the lead to 12 points and by the time the quarter ended it led 64-47.
“Those were two big threes and that pushed our momentum,” said Gibson, who will play at the University of Evansville next season. “It was the timing. The second three I didn’t think he was going to make. He’s got some range.”
Gibson admitted that Leipsig surprised VASJ by staying in the game as long as it did. Leipsig doesn’t have a player taller than 6-foot-4, while VASJ had the 6-3 Gibson running its show with Cleveland St. recruit Flannigan (6-7) and Bragg (6-9) inside. Flannigan had five of VASJ’s six blocked shots.
“(Leipsig) played their heart out and I’m really thankful for that,” said Gibson. “They were the best team we played in the playoffs and they played the hardest. They weren’t scared of us at all. We knew that coming in. We read the article in the newspaper today.”
The fourth quarter was a formality. VASJ, making its 12th appearance in the state tournament, won its fifth title overall and first one since taking the Division II title in 1995 against Cambridge.
Leipsic was playing in its first state tournament. Senior Devin Mangas led the Vikings with 18 points, while Brown added 16 points and nine rebounds.
“We weren’t going to stop doing what we did all year,” said Brown. “We’ve been talking all year that we have to have an inside game as well as outside. To our credit, we didn’t give up.”
Coach Scott Maag was an assistant at Putnam County neighbor and Division III champion Ottawa-Glandorf before taking the job at Leipsic in the 2007-08 season. Leipsic had gone 1-41 in the two seasons prior to Maag’s arrival. This was the school’s first trip to the state tournament and the 25 wins are a school record.