Maroon Knights Sweep Patriots
With the possible exception of winning a state championship, there’s nothing more satisfying to the Wheeling Central Catholic High School boys’ basketball team than notching a victory against Wheeling Park.
When it happens twice in the same season, the Maroon Knights and their fans can get downright delirious.
Trailing 17-7 early in the second quarter, Coach Mel Stephens’ Central dribblers went on a sparkling 20-3 run that carried into the second half and set the stage for a 52-45 victory in a hotly contested battle played before an overflow crowd Thursday night at Wheeling Jesuit University’s Alma Grace McDonough Center.
Thursday night’s victory also completed just the second regular season sweep for the Maroon Knights against the Ohio County consolidated school.
The only other time Central tasted such sweetness occurred during the 1992-93 campaign.
”This is a wonderful accomplishment for our seniors,” said Stephens, who also pointed out that the Maroon Knights also swept the season series from Linsly, Shadyside and Weir. ”Every one of those teams is having a successful year.
Central, now 15-6 overall, defeated the Patriots 49-41 in December. The Maroon Knights were able to dominate the rematch despite struggling to hit any perimeter shots.
”When our outside shots weren’t dropping, we took the ball inside and either got a basket or went to the free-throw line,” Stephens said.
Rebounding and tenacious defense were other key factors.
Central outrebounded the Patriots by a stunning 36-21 margin as the spring-legged junior Cody Koehler pulled down 12 rebounds. Senior teammate Cory McKitrick continued his stellar late-season play with 10 rebounds and 14 points. He was the Maroon Knights player in double digits, although Shane Phillips and D’Onte Long pitched in with nine points.
”Cody Koehler didn’t score (five points) a lot,” acknowledged Stephens, ”but he did so many other things well. He has good ‘ups’ in his legs and he gets to a lot of loose balls with his all-out hustle.”
Another Maroon Knight who didn’t do damage on the scoreboard but played a major role in the victory on the defensive end was senior Alex Peluchette. Five of Peluchette’s seven points, however, came during the third quarter that saw Central open up a 15-point lead. His biggest contribution occurred on the defensive end where he was glued to Wheeling Park’s Scott Safcsak.
Safcsak, who averages 12 points a game and is the leading scorer on a well-balanced Patriots club, got off only one shot which he missed while being hounded by Peluchette. The three-year Park veteran’s only basket of the game — a three-pointer — didn’t find the cords until the final seconds at which time Peluchette was on the bench high-fiving his happy teammates.
”’Chette’s’ a competitor and he took the opportunity to guard Scotty as a challenge. We told him to lock on to Safcsak and don’t leave him,” Stephens said.
The lone Patriots player the Maroon Knights couldn’t stop was junior D’Jhae Jackson, especially in the first and fourth quarters. The ultra-quick guard outscored Central’s entire team in the opening stanza, tossing in seven points as Park was able to open a 13-6 lead. Stephens then went with quick on quick during the next couple of quarters, assigning Long to try and slow down the Patriot burner.
Jackson got loose a couple of times and had six points, accounting for half of Park’s total during the middle quarters. With the Patriots picking up the pace during a comeback attempt in the final eight minutes, Jackson caught fire again and was able to draw several fouls on drives to the hoop. He cashed 8 of 9 free throw attempts and drained two short one-handed layups for an additional 12 markers as he finished with 25 points.
”We got off to a decent start but that was about it,” said Park coach Michael Jebbia as the Patriots record dipped to 16-5. ”When they made that run, we took too many quick shots and got away from what we wanted to do.”
After falling behind 40-25 entering the fourth quarter, Wheeling Park put together an impressive spurt of its own but, as Jebbia explained, ”We had to expend too much energy trying to come back to sustain it until the end.”
The Park coach, whose team has won 12 of 14 games down the stretch, also said his players sometimes haven’t reacted well when playing against their biggest rivals.
”I’m not sure they understand that when we go against teams like Central and John Marshall, that they are going to give us their best shot. We’ve got to put this game behind us and try to regroup before the sectional,” Jebbia said.
Both Park and Central have one more contest on their regular schedules. Tonight, weather permitting, the Maroon Knights are slated play host to Oak Glen while the Patriots travel to Morgantown for a clash against University High.
It looked like Central wasn’t the team ready to go at the outset, as Jackson drained a 15-foot runner off the glass, then stole the ball and went in for another basket to give the Patriots a quick 4-0 lead. It became 6-0 a couple of seconds later on Matt Pearson’s one-handed shot from the elbow.
After Shane Phillips netted an off-balance jumper to get Central on the board, Park went up 11-2 as Jackson netted a turnaround jumper, then came up with a another steal before hitting one of two at the foul line. A feed from Pearson to Brad Guckert for an easily deuce gave the Patriots their nine point spread.
Eli Joseph’s tip just ahead of the buzzer finally brought Central back to within 13-6 but an early second quarter R.J. Vargo transition basket put Park in front 17-7. From there, the Maroon Knights erupted to score the next 12 points, as Long momentarily took over the game, displaying some quick bursts to the basket.
After a McKitrick putback, Long contributed a transition hoop and two free throws, followed by a baseline jumper from Jack Weishar. Long drew still another foul and dropped in both attempts to produce the evening’s first tie at 17-17 with a little more than three minutes remaining in the half.
McKitrick’s steal led to pass from Long to Weishar, who went into the back door for a layup and a 19-17 Central advantage. The 6-4 McKitrick created another steal and wound up cashing it into two points. Jackson then ended the Patriot drought with nice one-handed shot from in the paint that kissed off the glass into the twine, pulling the grey-clad visitors to within two points.
However, Long capped off an eight-point second quarter for himself with another penetration to the basket, which gave Central a 23-19 halftime edge.
Ohio Division IV
Bridgeport 46, Caldwell 40
At Morristown, Justin Gregorcic’s hit a 3-pointer from the left wing to give Bridgeport (14-7) a 34-33 lead that it would never relinquish en route to an Ohio Division IV sectional tournament victory against Caldwell (6-15).
Mike Bachie led Bridgeport with 15 points, while Gregorcic added 12.
Ryan McKee was Caldwell’s lone double-digit scorer with 14.
Bachie also hauled down a dozen rebounds as the Bulldogs held a slim 28-27 edge off the glass.
Ohio Division II
Carrollton 66, Indian Creek 55
At Steubenville, Carrollton advanced to the district tournament with the help of Derek Dowell’s 23 points.
Pierce Oaks also added 22 for Carrollton (7-16).
The Redskins (16-7) were led by Daniel Dunlevy with 21 points while Mike Smith and R.J. Roberts scored 12 and 10, respectively.
John Marshall 75
Tyler Consolidated 46
At Kidwell, Casey Defibaugh and Jeremy Hays evenly split 22 points to lead John Marshall to an easy victory against Tyler Consolidated.
Brock Melko added 10 points for the Monarchs.
The Silver Knights (3-18) were paced by Ryan Summers’ game-high 16 points and Zach Perkey’s seven points and 10 rebounds.