Coaches Play Pivotal Role for Central

CHARLESTON – Wheeling Central’s coaching staff of Mel Stephens, Chip Callisie and Tyler Morando didn’t pull down a single rebound, block a single shot, or record a single steal in Wednesday’s West Virginia Class A quarterfinal drubbing of Magnolia.

They certainly didn’t hit five 3-pointers that helped spark a 17-0 run that all but put the game on ice before halftime, either.

But they were credited with a major assist.

You see, these guys, who had already suffered a pair of losses to the Blue Eagles, went into a sectional final on March 1 thinking they had the perfect plan to get under the skin of a very good, well-balanced Magnolia team.

They got beat by 24, mostly because the Central players, for one reason or another, completely abandoned that particular game plan that night soon after the opening tip.

So when they found themselves in a rematch with Magnolia on Wednesday, Stephens thought that to be a plus. He basically looked at his kids and said, ‘let’s try it again, only this time, do it right.’

They did. And it worked.

“If we’d have executed (in the sectional final) and did anywhere close to what we did to them (Wednesday), they would have had an advantage in knowing what we were going to try to do to them and it might have been different,” Stephens said. “We came out and did what we thought we could do and how we could play with them and win and we executed pretty well.”

That plan, essentially, was to help on defense when the ball was on the block in the hands of either Mark Winters or Zach Wilhoite down low, but not so far that you lose your guy on the perimeter. And, that was a part-time deal. Just sporadic, enough to get in the heads of the Blue Eagles’ big men. “Are they coming, or aren’t they?”

In the second half, with a lead at 20, Stephens, Callisie, and Morando then had to switch things up and tell ultra-competitive high-school basketball players, in their 26th game of the season, to stop shooting every time they got a look.

To their credit, they didn’t.

“The whole second half, we said we wanted long possessions on both ends just to shorten the game, and that’s how it worked out,” Stephens said.

How did they get that message across? Twenty-point leads were a luxury rarely afforded to the 2012-13 Knights, who at one point were 2-7 and were still sub .500 when the postseason started.

“You can either go back out and try to do it your way, or you can try to do it our way,” Stephens said. “I’d rather they did it our way, then if we lost, then we can take the heat for it rather than them having to take the heat for a loss.

“I think they realize what kind of opportunity they have down here with a chance to play in a state tournament, and they’re pretty much willing to do whatever it’s going to take to try and get a win.”

It was a perfect example of how coaches can positively affect the outcome of a game.

Next up, Charleston Catholic

Wheeling Central has Charleston Catholic this morning with a berth in the state title game on the line.

Earlier in the season, the Maroon Knights took one on the chin, 62-42, to the Irish.

“They’re a good team,” Stephens said. “We came down here a month and a half or so ago, and they gave it to us pretty good. We’re a little bit bigger than them, so hopefully that works to our benefit. We can rebound and play better than we did the first game.”

The players to watch are senior point guard Garret McCartney and 6-foot-4 forward Nick George (15.3 points per game).

“The George kid’s a good player,” Stephens said. “The McCartney kid, I think he’s one of the best guards in the state. He’s very good on both ends of the floor. They just have a good team. It’s not just those two guys. They have other guys that know their role. Coach (Bill) McClanahan is no stranger down here. They understand, because they’ve been here so many times, they understand what it takes to win down here.”

Can this seventh-seeded Maroon Knights team upset its way the championship game? We’ll see.

Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at: