WEIRTON-Madonna's Blue Dons captured a regional title Wednesday the old fashion way-they earned it.
The defending West Virginia Class A champions swished 7 of 8 free throws in the game's final minute to hold off Parkersburg Catholic 50-47 before an overflow crowd at the Dube Dome.
George Vargo and company, now 22-3, will begin state tournament play Thursday. The back-to-back trips to Charleston are the first in Madonna history. The Dons also posted another first by claiming the Region One crown on their home court. The hard-working Crusaders finish at 16-9 in Rob Strcula's first year as coach.
"This game was big for our program," Vargo said. "We went undefeated at home and were able to cut the nets down in our gym for the first time in school history. Father Dube would be proud of us."
Madonna entered the final 8 minutes up six (35-29) thanks to Nick Battista's Hail Mary 3-pointer from half court as the third-quarter buzzer sounded.
Crusader Daniel Collie scored five straight to open the fourth period. Drazen Frankovitch scored Madonna's next six points from the paint but the visitors wouldn't go away. Brett Wright answered Frankovitch's first hoop and Collie poured in four more points.
The Crusaders actually led late in the stanza (42-41) after Wright turned an offensive rebound into two points. Clay Rokisky responded by going hard to the hole for a deuce. The Dons then caught a break when Parkersburg Catholic misfired from close range, Frankovitch hauling in the stray.
Battista started the decisive run of free throws, converting both ends of a 1-and-1 with 47 ticks left. His free tosses were Madonna's first of the half.
Payton Sturm got a stickback on the offensive end and Madonna maintained a one-point advantage (45-44). Blue Don Daniel Pietranton calmly swished two more freebies with 31 seconds remaining. The points were Pietranton's only ones of the contest. Frankovitch followed with one make from the stripe then Strum knocked down a 3-pointer and it was 48-47 Madonna.
Battista finished the scoring when he hit two more from the line. All 15 of Madonna's fourth quarter points were scored by seniors.
"Our seniors stepped up big," Vargo noted. "We talked about substituting but coach (Michael) Hagg said we were going to win this game or lose this game with our seniors.
"How about Pietranton's two foul shots? He doesn't score much, he plays great defense and he was our hero at the foul line."
As far as Vargo concerned, the key to the game was Battista's long-distance three.
"We won tonight because of Nick's Hail Mary shot," Vargo said. "When you think about a game like (this), you think about that shot. I'm sure Parkersburg Catholic will think about it all the way home."
Despite making just 4 of 23 attempts during the first quarter, Madonna trailed by just two (11-10) thanks to a late hoop from Frankovitch. Poor shooting and pretty good defense were the second-period highlights, the Dons grabbing a 21-18 halftime lead. Battista sparked a late 4-0 run, scoring on a feed from Ross Comis then assisting on a Rokisky bucket.
The Dons used a 9-2 run during the third frame to take their biggest lead of the evening (30-20). Parkersburg Catholic found back and trailed 32-29 before Battista's halfcourt swish.
Battista finished with 14 points to go along with seven rebounds, four assists and three steals. Rokisky also scored 14. Frankovitch added 11 and eight of his team's 31 rebounds. The Dons finished 18 for 51 from the floor.
"You have to give credit to Parkersburg Catholic," Vargo said. "That 2-3 zone is hard to beat. We had a hard time penetrating and our outside shots just were not falling. They did a great job on us."
Collie went home with game scoring honors as he hit for 16, nine coming in the final period.
"When we came here before (the Crusaders dropped a 70-53 verdict to Madonna back in January), he (Collie) was 1 of 17," Strcula said. "He had redemption on his mine. Without him, we wouldn't have made it this far. He did a great job."
Wright finished with a double-double, 10 points and 10 rebounds (the Crusaders had 26 as a team). Parkersburg Catholic connected on 20 of 54 field goal tries.
"We came up here expecting to play well and we did," Strcula continued. "We had a few bad possessions in the first half and a couple more in the second. It was one of those games that came down to a few key possessions.
"You can't break down against good teams. We played hard and we played tough. We had our chances."
The Crusaders coach said his game plan centered on making it hard for Madonna to penetrate the zone defense.
"They have two thoroughbreds in Frankovitch and Rokisky," he noted. "We did a good job of taking away their best players."
Right after the Blue Dons cut down the Dube Dome nets, Vargo learned his daughter was giving birth to his fourth grandchild.
"I love basketball but I love my grandchildren more," he said. "Adding a baby girl to our family is a great way to end the night."