WHEELING - The Wheeling Central boys' basketball team got the post-Christmas gift it needed the most during Tuesday night's semifinals of the Undo's-Main Street Bank sponsored Ohio Valley Catholic Tournament at Wheeling Jesuit University's Alma Grace McDonough Central.
After three losses to open the season, two of which occurred in the final minute of the game, the Maroon Knights came out hungry against a smaller, struggling St. John Central club and rolled to a 63-18 victory.
The Irish had the lead, 1-0, before the ball was even put in play as Michael Gregorcic hit 1 of 2 technical foul shots after Central was cited for dunking during pregame warmups.
That was the only time the Maroon Knights trailed as they eventually exploded on a 16-0 run to close the first quarter in front 22-5. Coach Mel Stephens' club then put things in cruise control from there.
The victory earned the Maroon Knights a berth in the 9 o'clock championship game tonight against Huntington St. Joseph, an 86-83 winner in overtime against Bishop Donahue in the thrill-packed first boys' bracket semifinal.
The Bishops will face St. John Central at 6 p.m. in the third-place game.
A steal by Braxton Nolte and dish up floor to junior forward Jordan Hartman put the Maroon Knights ahead to stay at 2-1. David Park's scoop layup while driving to the hoop made it a 4-1 advantage.
The Irish closed to within 6-5 but Hartman, starting a varsity career-high evening with 18 points that included 8 of 9 shooting from the field, scored the next five points.
Hartman scored on a putback, then took an assist pass from Justin Hammers for a layup and hit one of 1 of 2 from the free-throw line for an 11-5 advantage. The quarter also included a short jumper by Brian Felton, Nolte's dish underneath to Brandon Wallace for a lay-in, baskets from Hammers and Michael Pleva and two free throws by Thomas Stanley.
Hartman, who scored nine in the first quarter, was the Maroon Knights' only double-figure performer, although 12 of his teammates entered the scoring column.
Central led 35-7 at halftime and 49-15 after three quarters as the cold-shooting Irish managed to hit just 6 of 36 attempts. Kyle Imer, with back-to-back triples in the third quarter, was the leading St. John scorer with six points.