Maroon Knights Ousted by Irish

CHARLESTON – Wheeling Central’s reign as state champions came to an end Friday, falling to the one team that probably knows them better than it knows itself.

Charleston Catholic trailed out halftime, but came out and shut down Maroon Knights leading scorers Jordan Sorge and Zack Hood on its way to a 59-48 victory in the semifinals of the West Virginia Class A Boys’ Basketball State Tournament at the Charleston Civic Center.

Sam Wood led the way with 20 points and 17 rebounds for the top-seeded Fighting Irish.

“We did what we wanted to on (Wood) because we were worried about him trailing and shooting 3s,” Wheeling Central coach Mel Stephens said. “I felt we did a good job inside but he is an all-state player, no doubt about it.”

Wood kept Wheeling Central on its toes and that wasn’t good enough.

The Maroon Knights shot 32 percent and although Sorge reached double figures with 13 points, he didn’t score a field goal in the second or third quarters.

His jumper at the 7:06 mark of the fourth was his first since a 3-pointer at the end of the first quarter. The fourth-quarter score made it a 35-32 Charleston Catholic lead.

But as Charleston Catholic was able to do most of the game, it quickly got behind the pressure of Wheeling Central for an easy bucket by Seth Ritchie.

The Fighting Irish didn’t allow those easy shots for Wheeling Central and quickly turned the missed ones into transition scores.

“We rarely have used pressure at extended periods this season so maybe that hurt us,” Stephens said. “They were able to beat us off the dribble and they have some good athletes inside.”

With a little bit more than 2 minutes remaining, Tucker Wilkinson connected on a 3-pointer to bring the deficit back into single digits, but as the Maroon Knights surrounded the inbounds pass, Wood snuck down the court all alone for a layup that made the score 49-39.

Wheeling Central brought the ball to midcourt, only to have it stripped away by John Paul Tupta, who raced down for a layup and a foul shot after getting hammered to make the score 52-39 and all but seal Charleston Catholic’s sixth straight trip to the Class A title game.

“Wheeling Central has been the premier program in West Virginia for the past decade and when we started out, we just hoped we would be able to be competitive with them,” Charleston Catholic coach Bill McClanahan said. “For us to be in this position year after year and to beat a quality program like Wheeling Central is an honor.

“I am extremely pleased with our effort (Friday). We made some good decisions offensively and defensively and took control of the ballgame late.

“We never thought we would be able to limit Sorge and Hood like we did. We only wanted to contain them so to be able to hold them like we did says a lot about these young men.”

The Fighting Irish will play Parkersburg Catholic in the championship game today.