Wheeling Park Boys Headed Back to State

WHEELING – The date was Feb. 13, almost a month ago to the day.

Following his team’s one-point loss to state-ranked Logan, Wheeling Park boys’ basketball coach Michael Jebbia, in an almost inaudible whisper, said all the Patriots’ goals were still in play.

Tuesday night at the Basketball Palace on the Hill, No. 2 Wheeling Park (21-2) checked off the second of three season-long missions on its itinerary by knocking off No. 8 Preston (16-5) by a 59-46 count in a West Virginia Class AAA Region One co-final to advance to next week’s state tournament in Charleston.

”We told the kids after the Logan loss, we were hurting, but it was going to be a motivator for us,” Jebbia said as his name was being chanted by a raucous student section, which spilled onto the court to help celebrate the crown. ”We set three goals at the beginning of the season – win the OVAC championship, advance to the state tournament, and the third one is to win the state championship.”

Oh, and about that Noah Cottrill-led Logan team that walked out of Wheeling Park High School that snowy day with its collective chest puffed out?

”Just to let you know, we want to see Logan in the state championship,” Patriots senior Richard Hall said.

The opportunity for a rematch was made possible by a stifling defensive effort and just enough key contributions from everyone.

Sophomores Errin Baynes and Vondel Bell were given the usually unenviable task of shadowing Preston all-state guard T.J Thompson. The 6-foot-4 senior managed to get off 12 shots, but made just three as each was heavily contested.

His teammates, though, didn’t fare much better. The Knights made 35 percent (17 of 48) of their shots and turned the ball over 16 times, 12 of which occurred in the first half.

”Wheeling Park played great and deserved it all,” Preston coach Barry Sanders said. ”They very well could win the state championship.”

For the second consecutive outing, the Patriots found themselves opposite an opponent that wanted to keep the game in 50s and 60s. And for the second consecutive outing, Wheeling Park snubbed its nose at the notion it can’t win that type of game.

Bubby Goodwin, a returning all-stater himself, took the game over in the third quarter by scoring eight of his game-high 23 points as the Patriots maintained the nine-point edge they had amassed by halftime.

”We’ve been able to play different styles,” Jebbia said. ”Morgantown slowed it down a lot, but Preston with their guard play, I didn’t think it would be as slow.

”We didn’t really press a lot, but for maybe a minute or two in the second quarter.”

Wheeling Park could have put this one away far earlier had it not been for an uncharacteristically deficient effort from the free-throw line. The Patriots missed 15 of 24 tries, but made just enough to keep the margin in the comfortable range.

”We haven’t shot real well the last three games and even missed some free throws (Tuesday), but when you play solid defense you can be in the game,” Jebbia said. ”Everybody really contributed.

”We’ve been in tight situations and have had to handle some adversity, so our kids are battle-tested.

Baynes made a couple of big plays on the offensive end in the fourth quarter, hitting a foul-line jumper one trip, then following that up the next time by penetrating the middle and dishing off to Kevin Kuca for a jumper along the baseline that made it a 52-36 lead with 3:12 remaining.

Marqez O’Neal was solid against a Preston front line that featured James Crogan (6-9) and Colton Groff (6-4). The junior had a 14-point, 11-rebound effort.

T.J. Thompson, Cody Thompson (four rebounds, four assists) and Groff (nine boards) all had 10 points to pace the Knights.

”Sometimes this regional game is the most difficult to get through,” Jebbia said. ”Ten of these kids had a taste of the state tournament last year when we lost in the semifinals to South Charleston. So they know what it’s like.

”Last time we went to Charleston with a 21-2 record we came back 24-2 and won the state. So we’re in a good situation.”