Up against it? That doesn’t come close to describing the challenge that awaited Troy Christian.
“They were so long range, they could just get up over us,” said senior Christian Salazar following TC’s 67-36 thumping by Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph in a boys high school basketball Division IV state semifinal on Friday.
“We played our hardest; that’s the bottom line. We tried our best.”
But it wouldn’t be near enough to extend the Eagles’ landmark season.
Loaded with a couple of high-end Division I recruits, the Vikings (24-4) romped into today’s state final at Ohio State University’s Schottenstein Center against Leipsic, which defeated Lancaster Fairfield Christian 61-58 in Friday’s other D-IV semi.
TC’s first four field goals were 3-pointers. The only way the Eagles would stay in contention was to not miss from long distance, because they couldn’t establish an inside game and couldn’t rebound.
But the Eagles were 4 of 22 in treys afterward. They wore out in the second half after trailing by seven at halftime.
Spencer Thomas led Troy Christian with nine points. Nathan Kirkpatrick and Grant Zawadzki each added eight.
Demonte Flannigan, a 6-foot-8 senior who’s headed to Cleveland State, had 26 points to lead VASJ. Guard Duane Gibson, bound for Evansville, added 14. Carlton Bragg, a 6-9 freshman who already has an offer from Ohio State, helped cancel out the Eagles’ inside game.
Forced to shoot from deep, the Eagles couldn’t maintain their early touch. And when they missed, VASJ was there to snap up a 34-16 rebounding advantage.
“I knew rebounds would be bad,” TC coach Ray Zawadzki said. “I didn’t know that it’d be as bad as it was.”
The Eagles (26-3) had a breakout season, winning their first sectional, district and regional titles. VASJ is generally considered to be the state’s best team, any division. TC practiced against seven defenders to try to replicate the Vikings’ swarming defensive pressure.
“Our kids gave it everything that we asked of them,” coach Zawadzki said. “It was a very special season and I’m very proud of them.”