COLUMBUS — Leipsic’s Zach Kuhlman hardly missed a shot when he scored 24 points in the Vikings’ 61-58 win over Lancaster Fairfield Christian in a Division IV boys basketball state semifinal game on Friday.
What he seemed to miss was the aura, the atmosphere and pressure so many other athletes feel in a state tournament setting.
“It was just like any other gym,” Kuhlman said about playing in Ohio State’s Value City Arena.
While it was the biggest game of the season, not to mention the biggest in school history, the Vikings and Kuhlman treated it like just another game by doing what they’ve done the rest of the season.
They ran, they rebounded, they pressed, they played pressure defense.
With the win, they set up a match-up with Cleveland Villa-Angela St. Joseph for the Division IV state championship at 4:30 p.m. today.
Villa Angela-St. Joseph dominated Troy Christian 67-36 in the other Division IV semifinal.
“From Day One, we were fast, fast, fast. Attack, attack, attack. That’s all we know,” Leipsic coach Scott Maag said. “That’s the way we want to play you.”
Leipsic (25-4) jumped out to a 20-12 lead six minutes into the game and was behind only once.
Devin Mangas scored 13 points and Austin Brown got the Vikings started by scoring eight of their first nine points.
Guard Steven Carpenter, a cousin of former Ohio State linebacker Bobby Carpenter, led Fairfield Christian with 26 points. Zach Sullivan had 13 points and Justin Potochnik, a 6-foot, 7-inch post player, scored 12.
Fairfield Christian led only once in the game, at 32-30, late in the first half, but Leipsic ended the half with Kuhlman’s third 3-pointer of the first two quarters and a steal for a hoop by Aric Schroeder.
Leipsic never surrendered the lead in the second half though Fairfield Christian (25-3) got to within one point three times.
After the third time, Kuhlman struck again to put Leipsic in control. His 15-footer with 5:01 to play gave the Vikings a 51-48 lead. Then, after Mitch Kuhlman rebounded a missed Fairfield Christian shot, he drilled a 3-pointer, his fourth of the game, with 4:16 to play to make it 54-48.
Kuhlman hit 10 of 15 shots with four 3-pointers on Friday.
Fairfield Christian never got closer than three points the rest of the way.
The Knights’ coach Roger Hooper thought his team was on the edge of making something happen when it cut the lead to 58-55 with a minute and a half to play.
“That last 1 ½ minutes we were right there. We needed to hit a bucket. We had opportunities, we had looks,” he said.
“We knew they were a good team. From our standpoint, maybe we just ran out of time. Maybe we should have trapped them earlier.”
Maag talked after the game about how Leipsic’s goal was to be the last team playing this season in Division IV and about how not many people outside the Vikings’ locker room believed that was possible when the season began.
Now Leipsic has the opportunity to convert non-believers again against a Cleveland Villa-Angela St. Joseph team that has been most people’s favorite to win the Division IV title all season.
Cleveland Villa-Angela St. Joseph has two starters who signed with NCAA Division I schools this season and a sophomore rated among the top 25 players in his class nationally.
“We’re going to enjoy this one tonight and worry about tomorrow’s game tomorrow,” Maag said.
“We played Toledo Bowsher and they’re just as fast, if not faster than the team we play tomorrow,” he said. “We learned a lot there that is going to help us tomorrow.”
Bowsher won that game 97-79 in early December.
Mangas also pointed to the Bowsher game as a learning experience. “We’re going to give them (Villa Angela-St. Joseph) everything we’ve got. It’s going to be up there in the 80s, probably.”
Leipsic is in its first state championship game. For Villa Angela-St. Joseph, this is its ninth time in a championship game.
“They don’t care about who scores the most, they just care about winning basketball games,” Maag said about his team. “When you get that, you catch magic in a bottle.”
And, Leipsic hopes, you catch a state championship.