WHEELING - Winning a championship is never easy, but defending it can be even more difficult.
Saturday night on the campus of Ohio University Eastern, second-seeded Wheeling Central will get the opportunity to repeat as OVAC Class 2A champion after putting on a sizzling shooting display Tuesday night against visiting Caldwell.
Senior Alonzo Manns, junior Boyd Bibey and sophomore Chase Harler each tallied 17 points and after shooting 71 percent from the floor in the first half, the Maroon Knights finished at 60 percent for the game, in rolling to a 75-48 victory against the Redskins at their East Wheeling gym.
With the victory Coach Mel Stephens' squad improves to 15-3 and will battle top-seed Wellsville at 8 on Saturday night with the Class 2A championship on the line.
"It's always nice to get to play in games like these," Stephens said with a smile. "And defending championships is something that doesn't happen all that often. But last year we were able to sneak up on some teams. We aren't going to be able to do that this time around."
Leading 5-4, Central took control with a 14-0 run that included three consecutive hoops from Harler followed by a Manns basket and two long-distance bombs from Bibey that made it 19-4.
It was a 21-11 advantage after one before Caldwell's all-time leading scorer, Jonathan Wiechman, heated up and dumped in eight of his team-high 15 in the second with the Skins climbing to withing 26-19 at 5:06 of the half.
However, Manns then scored 10 of Central's final 15 of the half and the Maroon Knights headed for the locker room with a 41-23 upperhand.
It was a first half that was special in many ways for Stephens' squad. First, senior David Park added his name to the list of 1,000-point scorers for Wheeling Central, getting it out of the way quickly with an opening 3-pointer that put him right at the mark.
While teams have to concentrate on stopping Park and Harler, it was Manns and Bibey who did most of the damage in the first 16 minutes. Manns was 7 of 7 in the paint for 14 points in the half while Bibey was 4 of 4, all from beyond the arc for 12.
"Zo (Manns) should be helping us shoot 71 percent from where his shots are coming from, but Boyd not so much as deep as he was shooting," Stephens said. "But the other guys did a real good job of finding of.
"It's nice to get 'Zo rewarded with those feeds because he runs the floor so well."
Leading 49-32 midway through the third, Central put its foot on the accelerator and used a 14-2 burst to take away any doubt and make it 63-34 with eight minutes to play.
Park, who entered the game needing six points for 1,000, finished with six but did a fine job dropping the ball inside to Manns and also pulled down a game-high 17 rebounds, just two less than the Redskins (14-7) had all night. Park, Harler and Manns all watched the entire fourth quarter from the bench.
"David does such a phenomenal job rebounding the ball," Stephens added. "He uses his height so well, but the best thing is that if he boxes out a little better he could be getting three or four more a night.
"You like seeing these kinds of games as coaches because everyone knows about the big two in your lineup, but when that third and fourth player steps up for you it really turns you into a pretty good team."
Central grabbed a 46-19 edge off the glass but did turn the ball over 22 times, nine more than Caldwell. Tanner Harding added 10 in a losing effort for the Redskins.
"They are a very good basketball team," Caldwell coach Clint Crane said. "They have depth and they shoot and handle the ball very well. But the bottom line is that they will make us a better team because I don't believe we will see anybody better than that in the tournament."