WHEELING - Two hours seemed like an eternity as the Wheeling Park Patriots rode home from Parkersburg South on Jan. 14, having just suffered their third straight loss, sitting on an uncomfortable 6-4 record.
There were whispers, if not thoughts out loud - 'can this team make it to the state tournament?'
They answered them with a resounding yes Tuesday night in a West Virginia Class AAA Region One Co-Final with a 62-45 victory against East Fairmont, their 14th triumph in 15 games and ninth in a row.
Wheeling Park’s Errin Baynes, right, picks up the defensive intensity against East Fairmont’s Joseph Casalinuova on Tuesday night.
Photo by Jim Elliott
''We're looking at this as a new year and a new team,'' said Wheeling Park coach Michael Jebbia, whose squad has lost back-to-back state title games. ''Although Vondel (Bell), Errin (Baynes), Boo (Lathon) and Emil (Popicg) played a lot of minutes last year, it's still a new team.''
This team jumped out to a 9-0 run to start Tuesday's game, saw the Bees claw back to 17-16 midway through the second quarter, then ripped off the first 10 points of the second half to lead by 16.
''When you get those little runs against a good team, which Wheeling Park is, it's hard to recover from,'' East Fairmont coach Ty Asteroni said.
At halftime, it was Wheeling Park 25, Joseph Casalinuova 15 as he scored all but four of the Bees' 19 points. There have been worse things than a six-point deficit at halftime, Asteroni said.
''I thought some of the things that we were doing were effective, but they had a couple other runs to spell the difference,'' he said.
The 10-point spurt to start the second half included six points by Lathon, who finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds - his 15th double-double of the season.
''East Fairmont's a capable team shooting the ball, so I thought the third quarter run to start (was key),'' Jebbia said. ''It kinda gave us a cushion.''
The Patriots outscored the Bees 37-26 in the second half.
''Our goal in the second half was to play two mini-games - win the third quarter, win the fourth quarter,'' Jebbia said.
East Fairmont was limited to 31 percent shooting (13 of 32) for the game.
''Give Wheeling Park credit,'' Asteroni said.
''They played some hellacious defense. They're athletic and they can do those things.''
When it was all over, Casalinuova, who averages 23 per game, had 26 of the normally better-balanced Bees' 45.
Baynes led all Patriots' scorers with 24 points.