By DAVE MORRISON
WHEELING - Wheeling Park's Elijah Bell did not hesitate to take the shot. Fellow sophomore Phil Bledsoe was glad to finish.
With Wheeling Park and Vincent Warren tied Monday at 65-65, the Patriots got a gift they weren't expecting when the hosts took a shot with 45 seconds left instead of holding for the last one, as Park coach Michael Jebbia expected it would.
So the Patriots held the ball and Bell, the sixth man, still in the game despite a offense-defense switch-out Jebbia had been using on deadball situations, found himself with the ball. He drove to the left, stopped, and hit a fadeaway that found the iron.
As it bounced off the rim, Bledsoe got the tip-in and with it, Wheeling Park (4-1) got an impressive road victory against Vincent Warren, an Ohio Final Four team of a year ago that returned three starters.
Two sophomores making a difference isn't exactly startling news. Park is a relatively young team, with just one senior.
Jebbia's young crew will have to step up its game even more today when the Patriots battle Seton-LaSalle out of Pittsburgh.
With the exception of a somewhat surprising loss to Winfield in the FCA Hoops Classic at the Charleston Civic Center, Park's season has gone as well as Jebbia had hoped, with the Patriots' current two-game winning streak including victories at George Washington and Vincent Warren.
The Rebels of the WPIAL are 7-0 to start the season and are led by 5-foot-8 point guard Dale Clancy, who is averaging 22 points per game. Stopping Clancy amounts to catching lightning in a bottle, Jebbia said.
"He is probably the quickest player we will see this year," Jebbia said. "I'm not sure we will see a quicker point guard in the state of West Virginia.
"We are just going to try to slow him down. I don't think you can fully stop him. We have to make him work for everything. This is the best team we've played to this point."
Toddy Goodwin-Rowe will likely draw the assignment of covering Clancy, although Park will likely use some zone-type defenses as well.
Seton-LaSalle also has double-figure scorers in Malik White (6-4, 230 pounds) who Jebbia said "looks like a creature out of Greek mythology" and Ryan Norkus, a 6-3 combo player who is active in the paint and can step outside and shoot. Levi Masua, a 6-5 post, is another major contributor.
"White has the tight end, defensive end body," Jebbia said. "We have Phillip (Bledsoe) and Chalmer (Moffett) and they are about 215. Usually we are the more physical team. Now, all of a sudden, we are going to face a team that is likely more physical."
The Patriots are led by Ryan Reinbeau, who is averaging 15.6 points per game, 5.2 rebounds and 2.4. Bledsoe is averaging 13.6 points and 13.2 rebounds in his first five games as a starter for the Patriots. Trenton Smith averages 11.2 and Luke Saseen 10.4 points. Starting point guard Goodwin-Rowe averages 7.0 ppg. In an oddity, he led the team in scoring against George Washington last Saturday but did not shoot in the victory against Vincent Warren. Moffett averages 6.0 ppg. and 4.8 rebounds and super sub Bell 4.4, 2.6 rebounds, two assists and two steals off the bench.
As for sophomores factoring on the key play of the season's biggest victory to date, Jebbia sees no problem with it. In fact, he says it speaks to what they team is all about.
"The older guys don't mind two sophomores making that play," Jebbia said. "They like the fact that they are willing to make a play. It could be any of them making that play.
"I don't mind Elijah taking that shot. It's in his makeup. Look at football. When they were struggling a little against Point Pleasant (in the playoffs) he has an interception and touchdown return. Turns the game around. Same thing in basketball."
It will be the third game in six where Park is playing on a college and or coliseum venue floor. In its last two games, Park has increased its scoring output in each quarter.
The CRC kicks off at 3:10 today when Prime Prep (Dallas), which beat Huntington Prep last season in the tournament, faces Simeon (Chicago) which is the former school of Duke freshman standout Jabari Parker. After Park faces Seton-LaSalle, Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) will play Villa-Angela St. Josephs (Cleveland) at 7 p.m., in a nationally televised ESPN contest, followed by No. 1-ranked Montverde (Florida) vs. St. Benedict's Prep (Newark, N.J.).
On Saturday there is a full slate of games, starting with Wheeling Central (4-0) taking on St. Joseph Prep (Philadelphia) at 12:10. Neumann-Goretti (Philadelphia) will face Simeon at 1:40. Gonzaga (Washington, D.C.) will face Bishop Gorman at 3:10, Monteverde will take on Wheeler (Georgia) at 4:40 and Prime Prep will go up against Whitney Young (Chicago) at 7 p.m.