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VASJ downs Fairland in Final Four

Fairland Dragons’ Keedrick Cunningham (13) attempts to block the shot of Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph’s Alonzo Gaffney during Friday’s Division III state semifinal game. Cunningham led the Dragons with 17 points but the lost to the Vikings 73-50. (Kent Sanborn of Southern Ohio Sports Photos)

Jim Walker
jim.walker@irontontribune.com

COLUMBUS — Just give me five minutes.
It could be five minutes of sleep. It could be five minutes to finish a test. It could be five minutes to shop.
But in this case, it was five minutes that the Fairland Dragons would like to have had back.
The Dragons lost 73-50 to the Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph Vikings on Friday in the Division III Final Four semifinals at the Ohio State University Schottenstein Center, but it might have been a five-minute stretch in the second quarter that turned the game.
Fairland (25-2) trailed just 21-15 when Gunner Short hit a 3-point goal at the 6:29 mark. But the Dragons didn’t score again until a layup by Short off a pass from Luke Thomas with 1:21 left in the half.
That left the Dragons down 36-17.
William Butler then hit a 3-pointer for a 39-17 VASJ lead before Fairland’s Kollin Van Horn’s layup just before the end of the half made it 39-19.
“When they made that run, hit a couple of shots, I think we panicked offensively. We weren’t moving the ball. We weren’t getting the looks that we were supposed to be getting and attacking where we needed to be,” said Fairland coach Nathan Speed.
“We started forcing stuff that wasn’t there. We didn’t rebound out of those shots and that led to put-backs and we just kind of struggled from there.”
Butler proved to be the culprit in Fairland’s unsuccessful trip back to the state tournament for the second time and first since 1961.
Looking more like a fullback than a basketball player, Butler scored all 16 of his points in the first half including three 3-pointers.
Speed said Butler was the difference maker.
“He’s a shooter. We’ve seen him before. He hit some huge shots. He changed the complexion of the game,” said Speed.
“A couple of times our close-outs were a little slow. We could have got to him better. We knew he was one of their shooters. They have a lot of weapons.”
VASJ (24-6) was making its sixth straight state tournament appearance. The Vikings played Cincinnati Roger Bacon at 5:15 on Saturday for the state title. Roger Bacon routed Archbold 68-43 in Friday’s other semifinal game.
“Fairland is the best team we’ve faced in the first game (of the state tournament) over the past six years. They were a good team. They’re well-coached,” said Vikings’ coach Babe Kwasniak.
The Vikings experienced showed as they never became flustered despite the relentless Dragons play for the first 10 minutes of the game.
Van Horn hit back-to-back shots for a 4-3 Fairland lead and his dunk made it 6-4. A layup by Thomas at the 3:58 mark of the first quarter gave Fairland its final lead at 8-7.
Butler then hit a layup and VASJ was back on top for good. A layup by Jerry Higgins, a trey by Butler, a layup by Daniel McGarry and another layup by Butler put the Vikings up 18-10 at the end of the first quarter.
Keedrick Cunningham had a putback and Short’s triple cut the deficit to six when the Vikings hit their spurt and pulled away.
Fairland had 12 turnovers for the game and five in the first half. The Vikings finished with eight but had just one in the first half.
“(Villa Angela-St. Joseph) is extremely physical, quick, quick hands. They’re very active. A lot of deflections, a lot of tips,” said Speed.
Higgins followed up a missed shot that gave VASJ its biggest lead at 49-21 at the 5:36 mark of the third quarter.
Thomas hit a couple of trifectas and Cunningham made three driving layups and the Dragons trailed 59-35 at the end of the quarter.
The closest Fairland got the rest of the game was on a 3-pointer by Thomas with 5:50 to play that made it 61-43. But VASJ scored six straight to end any comeback hopes.
“I felt like we played hard. We had some silly turnovers. I felt like rebounding-wise we rebounded fairly well. Offensively, I thought we could have been a little bit more patient and attacked more,” said Speed.
“Defensively, I felt like we did a good job until it got to the point we had to come out of what we felt comfortable with doing and that allowed them to good opportunities to score in transition.”
Cunningham had 17 points and four rebounds to lead the Dragons. Thomas had 11 points and four assists while Van Horn finished with 10 points and nine rebounds.
Gaffney had 18 points and 10 rebounds for VASJ. Higgins scored 17 and McGarry had 11 points, five rebounds and five assists.
Fairland    10    9    16    15    =    50
Cleve. VASJ    18    21    20    14    =    73
FAIRLAND (25-2): Ty Staten 0-3 0-0 0, Luke Thomas 4-11 0-0 11, Isaiah Howell 2-4 0-0 4, Kollin Van Horn 5-10 0-2 10, Gunner Short 2-7 0-0 5, Keedrick Cunningham 8-14 1-4 17, Matt Mondlak  0-2 0-0 0, Joel Lambiotte 1-1 1-2 3, Austin Gartin 0-1 0-0 0, Dairus Stapleton 0-1 0-0 0, Reilly Sowards 0-1 0-0 0, Ian Chinn 0-0 0-0 0, Andy Lange 0-1 0-0 0, Chase Fisher 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 22-56 2-8 50. 3-point goals: 4-15 (Thomas 3-7, Short 1-3, Gartin 0-1, Cunningham 0-2, Stapleton 0-1, Sowards 0-1). Rebounds: 14-O, 15-D = 29 (Van Horn 9, Cunningham 4). Team/deadball rebounds: 2. Assists: 9 (Thomas 4, Staten 2). Steals: 6 (Howell 2, Short 2). Turnovers: 12. Blocked shots: 1 (Van Horn). Fouls: 16. Fouled out: None.
VILLA ANGELA-ST. JOSEPH (22-6): Alonzo Gaffney 7-9 4-6 18, Noah Newlon 1-3 0-0 3, Daniel McGarry 4-5 3-4 11, Andre George 2-3 0-0 4, Jerry Higgins 7-12 2-4 17, William Butler 6-9 1-2 16, Chad Porter 0-0 0-0 0, Anthony Dinunzio 0-0 2-4 2, Terrance Lawler 1-3 0-0 2, Oliver Carson 0-1 0-0 0, Stefan Weems 0-1 0-0 0, Jason Priah 0-0 0-0 0, Reggie Priah 0 0 0-0 0, Graham Koppleman 0-0 0-0 0, Jordan Calhoun 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 28-46 12-20 73. 3-point goals: 5-15 (Butler 3-6, Higgins 1-2, Newlon 1-3, Gaffney 0-1 George 0-1, Lawler 0-2). Rebounds: 8-O, 23-D = 31 (Gaffney 10, McGarry 5). Team/deadball rebounds: 1. Assists: 15 (McGarry 5, Higgins 3). Steals: 6 (Gaffney 3). Turnovers: 8. Blocked shots: 1 (Gaffney). Fouls: 11. Fouled out: None.