PDT Sports Writer
Winning runs in the McEldowney family.
Nearly a decade after brother Roger lead Versailles to a state runner-up finish, Scott McEldowney will look to finish what his sibling could not, win a state title.
“It’s been really special,” Scott McEldowney said. “I’ve learned a lot from Roger throughout the years and it just means an awful lot to get a chance to get back here to the state. It was a fun run the last time we went and we’re hoping instead of a state runner-up that we can take it one step further and bring home the championship this year.”
This current stint includes nephew Josh Langston coaching this year’s freshman team along with one of Scott McEldowney’s sons is dressing in the program and the other as a manager.
That first step towards the Division III crown begins Thursday afternoon when the 22-5 Tigers take on 24-3 Leavittsburg LaBrae in the second semifinal at Ohio State’s Jerome Schottenstein Center. The winner will take on either Ironton or Ottawa-Glandorf, which will be decided in the first semifinal of the day.
“It’s been a special run,” McEldowney said. “We started off in the Top 10 in the state a good part of the year and unfortunately through the season, we hit some downfalls, just some guys that were struggling a little bit.”
It was when Versailles was out of contention for the Midwest Athletic Conference title that McEldowney felt his team made the necessary adjustment towards a deep tournament run mindset. One thing that has helped is the improvement in the half-court offense.
“We definitely like to up-tempo it when we can, we’re best with our athletes when we’re out running the floor,” McEldowney said. “I think we just got a lot better in the half-court in execution. Our players have really stepped up, players that were struggling and players off the bench that have stepped up and been able to knock down shots and finish baskets inside for us.”
Sophomore guard Kyle Ahrens is the ringleader to this Tiger squad, averaging 20 points a game this season. Senior guard Chad Winner is averaging 15 points a game and is a threat to attack the basket as well as making the long-range shots. The rest of the starters are comprised of junior guard Nick Campbell, junior forward Damien Richard and senior center Jacob Heitkamp.
For LaBrae, this is the first trip to the state in school history. Excitement in Trumbull County is peaking according to Vikings coach Chad Kiser, who like his coaching opposite in the semifinal, is in his seventh season.
“The community is really behind the boys and the school,” Kiser said. “We’ve been getting police and fire truck escorts out of town each game, just really exciting. Our last game at Canton Fieldhouse, I think we sold almost 1,100 tickets and it’s the loudest I’ve heard any gym.”
Junior forward Peyton Aldridge leads the charge for LaBrae with 20.4 points per game, someone Kiser describes as a do-it-all type of player. Aldridge currently has 10 Division I offers, a good chunk are in the Mid-American Conference but others include Davidson, Boston College, Youngstown State, Cleveland State as well as William and Mary.
The remaining four starters are seniors with guards Carl Brown, Chris Clevenger and John Richards along with forward Nate Middleton. Overall, the Vikings have three starters returning from last year’s squad that finished undefeated in the regular season and as the No. 2 team in the final regular season Associated Press poll.
“With a lot of teams in the state, it’s a long season and they’re kind of waiting for it to get over,” Kiser said. “Our guys, we don’t want it to end and I’m sure that’s the same with all of the teams left at this time of the year.”
Cody Leist can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 294, or email@example.com.