Abate Fuels Wheeling Central
Junior Scores 19 In Rout of Williamstown
NEW MARTINSVILLE — While the games in the New Martinsville Rotary Challenge featured mostly local schools competing against each other, there was a certain aura through the day concerning the Wheeling Central and Williamstown matchup.
The two Top-10 teams split the difference on travel and met in the middle at Magnolia High School for the heavily anticipated showdown.
Instead of a classic, it was a blowout in every sense as the Maroon Knights started the game on a 12-4 run, never trailed and rolled to an 88-56 rout of the Yellowjackets.
Wheeling Central entered as the No. 7 team in the state, one spot lower than its opponent. That will likely change in a big way when the new poll is released Monday.
The Maroon Knights (11-4) have won six straight since a loss to top-ranked Notre Dame on Jan. 11.
In that run, Wheeling Central has defeated No. 8 Parkersburg Catholic and No. 9 Charleston Catholic, as well as rivals Linsly (twice) and Madonna.
And it is seemingly a new person every night for the Maroon Knights stepping up and leading the team.
Saturday it was Clayton Abate.
“The other night, we scouted (Williamstown) against Parkersburg Catholic and they started two big kids and we thought that was the way they would go (Saturday) to match up with our two big kids,” Wheeling Central coach Mel Stephens said.
“They didn’t and we were going to go inside anyway. He played really well.
“It was probably his best game to date. That was probably our best overall game. Two weeks ago against Linsly, we played our best first half and not a good second half so this time we challenged them a little bit, being in this position before. (Saturday) we did what we needed to do for the most part. There are still a few things we need to work on but we did what we had to do.”
The junior center was a force inside for the Maroon Knights, leading the team in scoring with 19 points and grabbing eight rebounds.
He set the tone early in the first quarter with back-to-back buckets (including an and-1) to help double the lead. He scored eight points in the opening quarter as the Maroon Knights jumped out to a 30-11 lead after one.
It was a dominating second quarter as well as Wheeling Central was sitting pretty at halftime up 28 (55-27). Abate made sure there would be no lull in the Maroon Knights’ play, again taking over the quarter with nine points after halftime.
His play inside also helped open up the shooting lanes.
The Maroon Knights passed the ball as well as you will see any team at this level and didn’t force many shots. They shot 32 of 57 (56 percent) from the field.
J.C. Maxwell added 17 points and Avery Lee came off the bench, knocked down three 3-pointers in the second quarter and finished with 13.
Ten of the 12 Maroon Knights players that entered the game got into the scoring column.
“We shared the ball really well,” Stephens said. “Coach (Lance) Bibey said at halftime he wondered how many assists we had. We made that extra pass and guys got open looks and made shots.
“We have won six in a row so we have to be doing some things right, especially against good competition. That two-week stretch, we thought it was going to be important and we really played well. The kids are gaining confidence and they are starting to understand what we are asking them to do. When they do it, they are seeing the results and that is building their confidence.”
Another tough task awaits Wheeling Central on Wednesday when it welcomes No. 4 Trinity. The Warriors own a victory this season against the Maroon Knights.
Williamstown was paced by Cullen Cutright with 14 points.