WHEELING - Returning all-stater Mark Winters scored Magnolia's first 19 points of the game on his way to knocking down 34 points overall. But it was a basket and two free throws cashed in the final 28 seconds by freshman Preston Boswell that lifted the Blue Eagles past Wheeling Central Catholic 65-60 Tuesday night at the nearly-packed 13th Street Gymnasium.
The Maroon Knights held the lead through most of the first half, then fell behind early in the third quarter before rallying to deadlock the score at 60-60 when high-scoring junior Central wingman David Park finished off a sparkling 29-point performance of his own by netting two free throws with 49 seconds remaining.
Magnolia got the ball inside quickly to Mike Winters and Mark's senior brother was hacked while putting up a shot. Although he entered the game just a few minutes earlier, Mike Winters hit the back end of the two-shot foul, giving the Blue Eagles the lead to stay.
The Maroon Knights’ David Park (11) dribbles toward the baseline while being guarded heavily by the Blue Eagles’ Stephen Rogalski during their game on Tuesday night.
Boswell then came up with a huge steal near midcourt and was hacked from behind while attempting to sail in for a layup. He drained both free throws for a 63-60 Blue Eagles' advantage.
The Maroon Knights hustled into the front court hoping to set up an attempt for a game-tying 3-pointer. After Central stopped the clock with a time out at the 17-second mark, it was Mark Winters turn to come up with the defensive steal, taking the ball away and then feeding it ahead to Boswell for the easy lay in that put the game on ice.
Boswell, the first Magnolia player other than the 6-foot-5 Winters to get on the scoreboard during the opening half, ended with 18 points on seven of 10 from the floor and a perfect 4-for-4 at the charity stripe.
Wheeling Central also unveiled a highly-promising freshman in the mutual opener as Chase Harler came off the Maroon Knights bench and contributed 10 points, including three baskets during the fourth quarter. Along with helping out defensively, Harler converted a huge offense play early in the fourth quarter by leaping inside spearing the rebound and then putting the ball up over of one of the Magnolia big guys for the basket that cut his team's deficit to 51-50.
Both freshman standouts in this game came on interesting Ohio Valley basketball bloodlines. Boswell's father was former Magnolia multi-sports standout John Boswell while Harler's dad was a stellar guard at John Marshall High School.
Winters drained four trifectas, three in the third quarter, as he connected on 11 of 24 shots, many of those attempts coming from long distance. With Winters playing away from the basket, Central was able to build an early lead by dominating underneath the glass, outrebounding the Blue Eagles 12-4 in the first quarter and 26-11 by halftime.
''Rebounding is our forte but we haven't worked on it enough yet," confessed Magnolia coach Dave Tallman. ''We are athletic enough to do it but we have to do a better job of boxing out."
Park opened the contest by hitting a runner and then dropping in a rainbow trifecta. He added a second triple and another from Thomas Stanley later in the first quarter helped the Maroon Knightsjump ahead 19-9. The Maroon Knights top scorer returning from last season, Park fired in two more triples during the second quarter enabling the hosts to lead the court at the break on top 29-23.
''I thought our shot selection was pretty bad early in the game," Tallman pointed out. ''But it got better as the game moved along. Mark was pressing a little too hard early.
''You can see how much he wants the ball and he is not an individualist," Tallman continued. ''He wants to win basketball games so much."
Winters, after scoring 21 of his team's 23 opening points with the other basket supplied by Boswell, caught fire early in the third quarter as did his freshman teammate. After Winters cashed a triple to open the second half, Boswell came up with the first of his several key steals and his layup pulled the Blue Eagles to within 29-28. Another Winters trifecta, giving him 27 of Magnolia's first 31 points, was followed by five more tallies from Boswell, putting the visitors on top 36-29.
Zach Wilhoite later became the first Blue Eagle player besides Tallman's dynamic Tuesday night duo to put points in the scorebook by cashing a air of free throws for a 41-33 Magnolia lead.
Central battled back behind another Park triple and two Brian Felton free throws to cut the deficit to 46-43 entering the final eight minutes. The Maroon Knights tied the score three times in the fourth quarter including the 60-60 deadlock with less than a minute left.
Although disappointed the loss, Central Coach Mel Stephens was pleased with the way his team competed against the highly-regarded Blue Eagles.
''This is a much different team from an effort standout," said Stephens, who has high hopes for a turnaround campaign after last year's below .500 finish.
''We knew coming in that we had to try and contain Mark Winters a little bit and I think he was probably saying over there that he earned every single one of those points.''
The Maroon Knights had three different guys on him, including Park, Harler and Chance Siebieda. ''Even though he scored all those points, all three of them did a pretty good job and made him work for everything, Stephens claimed. ''On some of those shots Harler was right up there with his hands trying to contest them."
''Give the Central kids credit," Tallman said. ''They worked for nine months getting ready for this game like we did. They were well coached and ready to play. I think maybe they hustled to the ball early better. Later in the game, we got after it pretty good."
Tallman also was well aware of the difficulty trying to defeat a Wheeling Central team on its home floor.
''This is a hard place no matter when the game is played. I don't think anybody in the Ohio Valley, including St. Clairsville, would want to open at Wheeling Central. And that's a compliment to both programs.''