Park’s FTs Enable Knights to Advance

WHEELING – It looked like the legend of Madonna’s Ross Comis was going to write yet another chapter in an already lengthy story.

However, Wheeling Central’s David Park is authoring a story of his own.

The Maroon Knights senior made three free throws with 1.5 seconds left to lift Wheeling Central (20-3) to a 70-67 victory against the Blue Dons on Tuesday night in W.Va. Class A Region One, Section One semifinal.

After watching Comis tie the game with a virtual one-man show when Madonna was down four, Central ran the clock down and called a timeout with 15.7 seconds left.

Everybody in the gym knew that Park, or teammate Chase Harler, would get the ball.

Park slipped outside, took a pass from Harler, dribbled once to his left and stepped back for a 3-pointer with Comis in his face. The shot wasn’t close, but Comis was whistled for a foul on the play.

“I knew as soon as I got fouled I was going to make all three,” said Park, who, after back-pedaling over halfcourt after the call, emphatically pounded the floor. “Practice makes perfect. We have two sets of free-throw drills we have to do, and if you don’t make them, you have to run. That’s the basket I always shoot on.”

Park had been in the same situation last year, needing to make two free throws at St. Marys to advance to the state tournament. Then, like Tuesday, he was true to form.

“If I had to pick a guy to be at the line in that situation, he’d be the one,” Wheeling Central coach Mel Stephens said.

The Blue Dons got the defense they wanted in that situation.

“You never want to foul, but you’ve got to be on him,” Madonna coach George Vargo said. “Park is so darn good, he can make NBA 3-pointers. I’d rather see that happen then have Park hit an NBA 3 in that situation. That is why he is an all-stater.”

His three free throws were critical because Comis had tied the game with less than a minute remaining.

Comis made a basket driving through the lane and drew a charge while making it. The future University of Massachusetts quarterback missed the free throw, but gathered in his own miss under the basket and laid it in to tie the game at 67-67.

“If that (blocking foul) call goes the other way, the game is probably over,” Stephens said. “There’s no excuse, a shooter should never get the rebound in that situation. It was a hustle play on his part. He did a great job getting to the ball. (Madonna) really came to play. They outhustled us. They made all the hustle plays, got all the loose balls and a majority of the time they were able to convert those into points. Credit our kids. We were able to make a few plays at the end.”

Madonna then elected to let Wheeling Central run the clock down to 15.7 before the Knights called a timeout.

It was a nip-and-tuck affair the whole way.

Neither team led by more than five points, which Central did on three occasions.

The game was tied 12 times and the lead changed hands 14 times.

Every time Central, who had beat Madonna 73-51 on Feb. 1, made a run, the Blue Dons had an answer. Until the end.

Park finished with 29 points (19 in the second half) and was 11 of 14 at the free-throw line (8 of 9 in the fourth quarter). Madonna was just 2 of 9 from the line for the game. Park also had eight rebounds and five assists.

Alonzo Manns added 17 points and seven rebounds and Harler had 15 points.

Comis had 23 for Madonna (13-9) while Nick Mazur had nine and Tyler Ewusiak and Nate Guio eight each.

“I thought we needed to play our A game and I think we might have played an A-plus game,” Vargo said. “We got exactly what we wanted. I thought all seven kids who played contributed. I said before the game I thought Central was the best team in the state and I still believe that. My congratulations to Central, Mel Stephens and the Maroon Knights.”

Central, which has won 12 straight games, plays Bishop Donahue at 7 p.m. Friday at Brooke High School in the Class A, Region One, Section One championship game.

“It’s been a while since we’ve played them (a 63-58 Central win in the Undo’s Tournament in late December),” Stephens said. “They are really playing good basketball. A section rival. It’s going to be a battle.”