WHEELING - The rematch of the 2011 West Virginia Class AAA boys' basketball state final drew a near-packed house to the Wheeling Park High School gymnasium and certainly none of the hometown Patriots fans could have been disappointed with the outcome.
Senior guard Errin Baynes fired 31 points, 13 of which were scored with the game on the line during the fourth quarter, as Wheeling Park (5-1) held off George Washington's furious closing rally to escape with a 61-57 victory.
The setback was the first of the season in five games for GW, which edged Park in last winter's big school championship game.
Wheeling Park’s Boo Lathon (33) shoots over the arms of George Washington’s Luke Eddy (5) and Thomas Francke (30) on Friday night.
Photo by Rick Thorp
Coach Michael Jebbia's club started quickly and built a 31-15 lead midway through the second quarter, only to see the visiting Patriots rally to within two points at 59-57 with 31 seconds remaining. Baynes then put the finishing touches on his career-high scoring performance by knocking down the two game-clinching free throws.
''We've been waiting for Baynes to kind of have that breakout game," Jebbia said. ''He has the ability and talent to do it."
Revenge for the title game loss certainly wasn't on Jebbia's mind. The Park coach was more concerned about how his team would perform in what he called its ''third signature game" of the season.
''We're 2-1 in these games so far," he pointed out, looking back at Park's victory against North Allegheny and an overtime defeat at the hands of Morgantown.
''We've got eight or nine games left on our schedule that will come down to the last two or three minutes," Jebbia continued. ''I told the kids before the game we control what happens and we have control about what happens in January, February and March."
Rick Greene, George Washington's veteran coach, stressed that his team left itself with too much of a deficit to overcome. ''Park is too good to get down that far (16 points) but I was really proud of our kids,'' he said. ''We kept battling and I think we are a better team for having played them.
''It was a great game, obviously I wish we could have won it but credit to them. They played better than we did.''
The Park Patriots never trailed after Baynes opened the game with the first of his four triples overtop the GW zone. However, GW rallied for an 8-8 stalemate when their 6-foot-6, 220-pound senior post player Thomas Francke converted a conventional 3-point play.
Just as quickly, Wheeling Park went back on top with Vondel Bell driving the baseline for a one-handed layin. He also was fouled putting up the shot and cashed the free throw.
Baynes finished the opening quarter with nine points as Park led 18-11. Baynes added nine markers again in the second quarter and the host Patriots used a 13-4 run to open their 16-point lead before George Washington junior standout Luke Eddy began warming up with a hoop and harm 3-point play.
After scoring just one point during the opening eight minutes, Eddy had six in the second quarter but GW could only trim its halftime deficit to 35-23.
Park ran into foul trouble early in the third quarter when both Bell and Emil Popicg had to take a seat with three personals each, enabling George Washington to battle all the way back to within 41-38 after a Darian Williams 3-pointer.
Considering the circumstances, Wheeling Park then got what might have the biggest basket of the night when sophomore Luke Saseen, who had just two points previously, swished a triple from the baseline deep in the right corner to stretch the lead back to six points.
Dustin Crouser hit one of two from the line for GW, but Lathon dropped in a pair to send Park into the fourth quarter on top 46-39.
Baynes tossed two straight triples through the silk to extend the lead back to 10 at 52-42 and, following Eddy's trifecta, Park's leading scorer on the night cashed two more free throws for a 54-45 lead with 4:50 remaining.
Two more Baynes free throws pushed the advantage to 56-50 with 1:23 on the clock when Eddy drove the lane and hit his one-hander off the glass. Saseen converted two foul shots for a 59-54 lead with 39 seconds to play just ahead of Eddy's triple that made it a two-point game.
After Baynes extended the lead back to four at the 26-second mark, George Washington had trouble with its ball screens trying to get off another shot and Eddy finally was called for traveling with eight seconds remaining.
Eddy scored 13 of his team-high 24 points in the fourth quarter. Francke finished with 10 points.
''I thought we did a good job on him (Eddy) in the first half," Jebbia noted. ''They really started to wear us down a little bit on the boards. When you have 220 (Francke) and 225 (Dustin Crouser) coming at you all night, it can be tough."
George Washington played without 2011 Kennedy Award winner Ryan Switzer, who reportedly was among 150 of the nation's top high school football players attending a scouting combine in Florida.
''That had no effect on the game whatsoever," Greene insisted. ''We don't talk about that at all. We had five players on the floor. Park just played better than us for four quarters.''