VERSAILLES — Led by a 6-foot 7-inch junior who averages 20.4 points and 11.7 rebounds a game, the Versailles boys basketball team knows Leavittsburg LaBrae is going to be a tough challenge.
Peyton Aldridge leads the LaBrae Vikings (24-3), whom Versailles (22-5) will play in the state semifinals at 2 p.m. Thursday at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus. The junior guard/forward, who shoots 59 percent from the field, has about 10 college scholarship offers already from Mid-American Conference and Horizon League teams, according to The Vindicator in Youngstown.
While they know it won’t be easy to stop Aldridge and his teammates, they Tigers are confident they can do it.
“I’m really looking forward to play him again,” said Kyle Ahrens, who’s played against and guarded Aldridge in AAU games. “He’s a lot of fun to play with. I think we’ll just have to keep him off the boards and contest every shot that he has, and we’ll do fine.”
While Aldridge can post up inside, the Tigers said he’s also shown himself to be a big threat from the outside.
“They’ve got one tremendous player in Peyton Aldridge,” Versailles boys basketball coach Scott McEldowney said. “I believe it’s the second year he’s been all-Ohio. He’s getting a lot of Division I looks and a few offers already as a junior.
“He will post up quite a bit, but he’s a great outside shot, too. We’ll have to pick and choose when we want to double him and try to make him give it up. And we definitely need to make sure that we get a body on him because he gets 12 rebounds for a reason, because he really attacks the glass. So we got to make sure that we got a body on him when the shot goes up and we physically box him out.”
In addition to Aldridge, LaBrae has 5-foot 10-inch guard Carl Brown (10.5 points per game), 6-foot 1-inch guard John Richards (9.0 points per game), 6-foot 1-inch forward Nate Middleton (3.0 points per game) and 5-foot 9-inch guard Chris Clevenger (4.0 points per game) in its starting lineup.
Clevenger, the team’s point guard, twisted his ankle Monday but is expected to play, according to The Vindicator.
“Just really tough to stop and got some good athletes and a real good supporting cast, too, some kids who can knock some shots down,” McEldowney said. “They play good defense, good solid defense whether they’re, like us, whether they’re playing zone or playing man, they take a lot of the easy shots away. So it will be a real challenge playing them.”
Chad Winner said he likes the Tigers’ chances against the Vikings as long as they play strong defense and rebound well.
“We have to limit (Aldridge’s) shots, make sure every shot he takes is a tough one, no easy ones,” Winner said. “Their whole team, make sure they don’t get any easy shots and just make sure we own the boards.”
Versailles is confident that it can play well against LaBrae, who is making its first trip in school history to the state final four, as it has been playing its best as of late.
“We’ve got a lot of guys really shooting it well right now,” McEldowney said. “We’re moving the ball the best we have. Our defense and rebounding, I just feel like we’re playing our best basketball right now.”
The winner of the semifinal between Versailles and LaBrae will play in the Division III state championship game at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the Schottenstein Center. The winner will face either Ironton (23-2) or Ottawa-Glandorf (24-3), who are ranked third and fourth in the state respectively by The Associated Press.
If the Tigers keep playing well, they are confident that will can come out on top.
“Just do what we have been doing the past couple games, coming together just like against Roger Bacon (Saturday in the regional championship),” Ahrens said. “If we could do that, we’re going to win state.”