WHEELING - For nearly 30 minutes early Saturday evening, Wheeling Central Catholic played like anything but a struggling one-victory basketball team against athletic and talented Trinity.
Back-to-back drives into the paint for layups by junior point guard Raquan Ingram pulled the Maroon Knights from a 13-point deficit to within 62-53 at the 2:33 mark.
Just as quickly, however, three consecutive Central turnovers were part of an 8-0 run that propelled the Warriors to a 78-57 victory, dropping the Maroon Knights record to 1-16 on the season.
Leading the way for Coach Herman Pierson's team was 6-foot-5 junior Cody Triplett who, ironically, did not score a point until well into the second half. Forced to sit out most of the opening 16 minutes after committing two early fouls, Triplett didn't even get off a shot until more than 6 minutes had elapsed in the third quarter.
However, that first attempt was a big one as Triplett buried a 3-pointer from the left baseline near the Warriors bench, putting Trinity ahead to stay at 44-42. Triplett took just two more shots from the field and made both of them, including another 3-pointer. Down the stretch at the foul line, he swished nine of 10 free throws to wind up with 17 points.
It may have taken a little lecture from Pierson to get Triplett going after his extended time on the bench.
''I had to take him out after that second one that was not a smart foul," Pierson explained. ''I reminded him he should have let the guy go and shoot the layup because he was already behind him. Cody can't commit fouls like that because we need him on the floor."
Although the Warriors defeated the Maroon Knights handily last month in Morgantown, Pierson was not surprised at the battle Coach Mel Stephens' club put up in the return game.
''Central competed well and I knew they would," he said. ''They have been competing much better of late, which is something they always do. I have a feeling they may give people some trouble when they get into the sectional."
The Maroon Knights definitely came out ready to play in from of a hopeful home crowd at their 13th Street Gymnasium. The back-and-forth first quarter featured three ties and four lead exchanges.
David Park and Justin Hammers, who would finish with 18 and 13 points respectively, contributed five points each during the opening quarter. The Maroon Knights were effective in attacking the Warriors zone but Tommy Retton's seven points for Trinity, including a slick baseline drive that led to a conventional three-point play, enabled Warriors to take a 20-19 lead.
Hammers swished a pair of 3-pointers around a Bryan Western goal early in the second quarter, to keep the Maroon Knights close. It was still a one-point game near the end of the half but Jerid Jento drained a 3-pointer to put the Warriors on top 35-31 at the break.
''We really had some fluid on offense for most of the game," Stephens said. ''I figured they would play us a 1-3-1 because they had so much success with it down there when they forced us into almost 30 turnovers. We worked against the zone for two days, and I think the kids really understood what we were trying to do. We basically forced them out of that and made them play us man but then we did not do a great job running our man stuff."
Ingram scored 10 points to support Hammers and Park in the offense for Central, which had 14 turnovers. Unfortunately for Central's upset hopes, half of those turnovers were the result of sloppy ball-handling in the fourth quarter.
''Our kids' effort was good," Stephens said. ''But we really need to get a win just for their confidence. They're fighting it a little bit, wondering if they really can win. We keep telling them to keep playing hard and maybe when we got to the tournament we can start piling up some wins."