Nobody said it would be easy.
VASJ is on a quest for a fifth straight trip to Columbus, and a Division III district semifinal against Beachwood was a difficult step on the road to the final four, but the Vikings were able to get by and stay on the path to the Schottenstein Center.
VASJ outlasted Beachwood, 63-58, in overtime of an emotionally-charged district semi at Garfield Heights on March 6.
VASJ senior Will Butler scored 20 points and hit key free throws late in the overtime to lead the Vikings to the district finals.
VASJ will face the winner of Gilmour and Warrensville Heights in a district final on March 10.
“Beachwood is a year away, they have a lot of young talent and played so well – you have to give them credit. They know us well and played hard, but our guys were able to get through and make plays when we needed to,” VASJ coach Babe Kwasniak said.
The Bison rallied in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 55 in regulation. VASJ sophomore Alonzo Gaffney (14 points) scored the first four points in overtime to give the Vikings the lead for good.
Danny McGarry scored 11 points and Jerry Higgins chipped in 10 for VASJ in the win.
‘”We had a great few days of practice, and we will need to have more of that to get by the district final on Friday,” Kwasniak said. “Will made some huge 3s and some big plays tonight.
“If we don’t play better than we did tonight, we can lose on Friday. But, I love this team and how they respond so I expect nothing less than a tremendous effort in the next game.”
VASJ has won the last four district titles at Garfield Heights on the way to the state final four – winning the state championship in 2013 and 2015.
“It’s not about winning seven games, it is all about going 1-0 seven times. Tonight we got to 1-0. It was hard. The Beachwood kids played incredibly well.
“I’m not sure we played as well as we are capable of and we still found a way to win. That says a lot about our fight and these guys.”