Thunderbirds open big lead, hang on for second state title
Lima Central Catholic 64, Cleveland VASJ 62
It wasn’t quite “Hoosiers,” but it won’t soon be forgotten.
Underdog Lima Central Catholic had grown men crying following a, 64-62, upset of powerhouse Cleveland VASJ in the Division III state championship tilt. Very few thought it could be done outside of Lima, but head coach Frank Kill and his Thunderbirds weren’t buying into the talk.
Lima CC (25-4), a team featuring three sophomore starters, held a commanding, 42-29, advantage in the 3rd, but there was no doubt the Vikings were going to make a run and they sure did. Following an Xavier Simpson floater that gave LCC a, 51-44, lead, junior Derek Pardon would score five-straight points and classmate Carlton Bragg added a pair of freebies to knot the game at 51 in the 4th period.
The T-Birds and Vikings went back-and-forth the remainder of the way with LCC continuing to hold the lead by one to four points. However, with VASJ trailing, 60-57, LCC missed a free toss, but the Vikings missed the block out and sophomore Dantez Walton corralled the rebound. The T-Birds would score the next two.
Joe’s fought back once again, and with the scoring showing, 63-62 following a Bragg desperation triple, in favor of LCC, the Vikings once again missed a block out on a freebie as junior Jake Williams retrieved his own miss and dished off to sophomore Tre Cobbs, who was fouled with 1.7 seconds remaining.
Cobbs would make 1-of-2, and junior Brian Parker had one last look for the Vikings, but his heave from halfcourt was just off the mark sending the LCC faithful into a frenzy.
With the win, LCC captured its 2nd state title in five seasons, and denied the Vikings of winning their sixth championship along with stopping the Cleveland-based school from becoming the 1st school to win a gold in each division. Coach Kill added to his resume that already included a state championship and state runner-up as a player at Van Wert Lincolnview, and a state title as an assistant at LCC in 2010.
Simpson, who is just a sophomore but wise beyond his years, tallied 18 points on the night, which included 16 in the 2nd half. Time-after-time he came up with clutch plays for the victors. He also notched three assists and two rebounds, and handled the ball nearly flawlessly against VASJ’s pressure.
Senior Marytce Kimbrough wrapped up an outstanding season and high school career with 22 points of which 18 were tallied in the 1st half. Kimbrough was held to just four free throws in the 2nd half thanks to a more concerted effort on the defensive end by the Vikings.
The hard-working Williams totaled 12 points, which is seven above his average along with pulling down seven boards against a huge frontline of VASJ featuring the 6-9 Bragg and 6-8 Pardon.
Bragg paced the Vikings (22-8) with 23 points on 7-of-13 shooting, and scored his 1,000th point in doing so. Pardon enjoyed a huge evening with 17 points on 8-of-11 shooting, while snaring a game-high 15 rebounds. Parker added 15 points and five rebounds after being held to just a pair of buckets in the 1st half.
Both team shots 50 percent or better, but the Vikings were just 2-of-12 from behind the arc and LCC was dismal at the foul line going 14-of-28.
VASJ out rebounded the winners, 33-24, but the Thunderbirds had plenty of key boards.
Stat of the Game
Lima Central Catholic had just six turnovers.
Player of the Game
Xavier Simpson scored 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting, but his biggest contribution may have been his ability to handle St. Joe’s pressure. Simpson, who has a great understanding of the game, was unflappable for the 28 minutes he was on the floor.
It’s been said many times, but we will say it again, good guard play wins games.
Photos by Gary Housteau (JJHuddle.com/Bucknuts.com)