Wheeling Central Moves On to Class 3A Title Game

Knights hold off scrappy Cadets

Photo by Josh Strope Wheeling Central’s Owen Gainer goes up for a shot as Fort Frye’s Tate Engle (12) defends at the end of the first half Tuesday.

WHEELING — As Wheeling Central goes for its sixth straight OVAC title — this one in Class 3A after winning the previous crowns in 2A — new foes and new challengers come with stepping up in class.

Tuesday’s came in the form of a Fort Frye squad that is no stranger to the OVAC Tournament.

Wheeling Central held off scrappy Fort Frye with 65-55 victory at the Wheeling Central gymnasium to earn a date with Union Local on Saturday for the OVAC championship at Ohio University Eastern.

“We knew they would be hard to beat,” Wheeling Central coach Mel Stephens said. “They are very disciplined and execute well. We did well in certain defensive possessions, played 20-25 seconds of good defense and then they would get a breakdown and get an easy bucket or an offensive rebound. That is stuff we need to get better at.”

Through the final three quarters, the Cadets outscored the Maroon Knights, but it was a hot start by Wheeling Central that ultimately lead to the difference.

After Fort Frye (10-7) took its only lead with free throws by Brayson Schilling, Wheeling Central’s Bray Price started 14-2 run with the first of his five 3-pointers on the night.

Price hit three in the first quarter and his first four attempts.

“Bray shot really well and that is something we really need,” Stephens said. “The two from Ian (Georges) and Jalen (Creighton) were also pretty big. We needed somebody else to step up and help Owen (Gainer) and Brent (Price) carry the load.”

Wheeling Central was an impressive 10 of 14 shooting in the first quarter, most of them coming off easy baskets thanks to a press that gave Fort Frye fits.

The Maroon Knights forced five turnovers in the first eight minutes and ended the quarter with a 15-point lead (26-11).

“We weren’t getting on the shooters and their shooters were knocking them down,” Fort Frye coach Eric Henniger said. “We were letting them penetrate and basically doing whatever they wanted. After that, our guys kinda toughened up a little bit and played better defense. Then we started knocking down our shots.”

Following Bray Price’s fourth 3-pointer, the Maroon Knights were in front 39-18 in the second quarter and it looked like they would cruise into Saturday’s final.

Instead, Fort Frye charged back, ending the first half on an 11-0 run, paced by six points from Schilling.

In the second half, the Cadets trimmed the deficit to six points on three occasions, but couldn’t get it any closer.

At the end of the third quarter, Creighton knocked down a 3-pointer to push the lead to nine.

Early in the fourth, Brent Price went to the bench with his fourth foul. That is when Wheeling Central showed its depth as George knocked down a big 3-pointer to put the lead back into double digits.

Gainer followed that up with a conventional three-point play, as well as two clutch free throws with less than a minute to seal a victory.

“We did a great job battling back,” Henniger said. “Wheeling Central is a great team and it would have been real easy for us to quit when they went on that big run. Once we got our confidence back, we were right back in it, but just didn’t have enough in the end.”

Bray Price and Gainer each scored 15 to lead the Maroon Knights. Brent Price scored 11. Schilling was the high man for the Cadets with 14 and Tyler Bradford netted 12.

Wheeling Central entered the tournament as the No. 2 seed and will take on No. 1 Union Local at 2 p.m. Saturday. The Jets survived with an overtime victory against Bellaire.

“I thought (Tuesday) would be a good indication for us because Union Local is the same type of team, scrappy kids, good shooters,” Stephens said. “They will execute their stuff well and we are going to have to play really solid on the defensive end.”