Central Pulled Off 2002 OT Shocker
Knights Surrendered 21 Point Lead Before Holding On
A cold, February afternoon inside the Wheeling Central Gymnasium yielded, quite possibly, one of the greatest senior night games in area basketball history.
The date was Feb. 22, 2002.
Wheeling Central — one of the premier teams in the state of West Virginia that season — was playing host to Parkersburg Catholic, which also was one of the top teams in the state. In fact, Parkersburg Catholic had actually won the earlier meeting with the Maroon Knights.
With just over 5 minutes to go in the fourth quarter, it appeared the Crusaders were well on their way to spoiling senior night and completing the regular-season sweep of the Maroon Knights. After all, they led, 81-59, and had been in control throughout the game.
“They couldn’t miss early,” recalled then Maroon Knight head coach Dave Wojcik. “We tried every defense we could and they were still making shots. I think they were shooting something like 62 percent from the field.”
Somehow, some way, Wheeling Central got off the deck to eventually take a lead in the waning moments of the fourth quarter before Parkersburg Catholic tied the game at 88 to force overtime, but the momentum was still firmly with the Maroon Knights, who eventually pulled off the shocker 98-94.
Rather than folding their tents, and going home, the Maroon Knights turned to who else on senior night? Their seniors for leadership.
Jacob Dailer and Ricky Yahn simply weren’t going to let their final home game end in a blowout.
Awaiting a free throw from Parkersburg Catholic, Dailer stood at midcoast, watching as his fellow Wheeling Central student and classmate filed out of the gym, figuring the game was long over.
“I was standing at midcoast during a free throw, watching (people) leave and I was thinking to myself, ‘they’re going to miss a great comeback,” Dailer said.
Wojcik actually pulled most of his first group out of the game for one final break earlier in the fourth quarter, according to Yahn.
“I remember looking at Dave Contraguerro and another starter and saying, ‘we’re going to come back and win this game.’ A little bit later, Coach Woj came to us and said we were going back in and we ‘had one more chance to make a run,’ but if we weren’t any closer with three minutes to go, we were coming out.”
Dailer was spot on, while Yahn, Contraguerro and the other Maroon Knights had all of the motivation they needed from Wojcik.
With Dailer’s shooting, a staunch defensive effort and obviously some help from Parkersburg Catholic, the Maroon Knights went on a run for the ages, scoring 29 of the game’s next 32 points to take an 84-81 lead with 18 seconds to play.
“We just started chipping away,” Wojcik said. “As we were cutting into the lead, you could just see our kids starting to believe.”
The Maroon Knights run started with a four-point trip. Dailer was on his way to the basket for what looked like an uncontested layup when he was wrapped up for an intentional foul. He sank both foul shots and the Knights sank two more at the line after taking the ball out of bounds for the ensuing possession.
Then junior David Contraguerro, who went on to be an All-State player that season — scored five straight points himself. Officially, the run was on.
All of the sudden, Central was down just 13 with still more than half the fourth quarter to play.
“It was laser focus on each possession,” Dailer said. “We knew it was one stop at a time. We kept saying, ‘if we can continue applying this pressure, we will break them mentally.'”
Senior Ricky Yahn, who is now a college coach at Division III Concordia College in Ann Arbor, Mich., scored two more points at the line. Chris Stephens, who is the son of current Central head coach Mel Stephens, got to the line and calmly sank two more.
Finally, Parkersburg Catholic stopped the first portion of the run as Rusty Wooten, who scored 30 points in the game, scored, but his points came from the line as well, which actually benefited Central because the clock was stopped.
Central didn’t let the momentum fade. Stephens got two more at the line, Contraguerro recorded a steal, which led to a trey from Dailer and now all of the sudden the deficit was just six. Another Crusader turnover, this one came on a steal by Yahn, got Central back to the line for two more.
Parkersburg Catholic was in full meltdown mode at this point.
“That (Central) team just always believed it could accomplish anything,” Yahn said.
Parkersburg Catholic got one-of-two at the line, but Contraguerro connected on a shot to bring the Knights within three. After another 50-50 ball went the Knights way that saw the deficit reach one. Another Crusader miscue was followed by a time out. Out of that stop, Dailer dialed long distance again, giving Central the lead.
Parkersburg Catholic, however, dug deep to get the game to overtime. Wooten, who went on to play the Naval Academy, connected on a pair at the line to knot the game at 88 with just 0.4 to play.
“Our conditioning and preparation as far back as the preseason really paid off in that game,” Dailer said. “No team battled through harder practices than us. When you suffer together as a team, you create a bond that creates chemistry. When the fourth quarter begins, and more so in OT, our legs and will to win are incredible challenges for the opponent to overcome”
Contraguerro put the Knights on top for good from the line and then hit a jumper to extend the margin to three after Parkersburg Catholic got one of two at the stripe. Joel Moses scored for the Knights, making it a 94-89 game with 1:51 to play.
The lead swelled to as many as six in the extra session before Parkersburg Catholic got a foul shot and then a bucket off an offensive rebound. Central missed two charity tosses on its end and the Crusaders sank one-of-two with 11.1. Moses made it a three-point game again at the line.
Electing to foul, rather than allowing Parkersburg Catholic to attempt a 3-pointer, which it had shot extremely well all night long, Wooten made the first, intentionally missed the second, but it didn’t hit the rim, giving Central the ball back.
And who else, other than Dailer, was fouled and iced the game with two more from the line.
All told, Dailer finished with 36 points and seven 3-pointers, but it was those two foul shots that proved to be the biggest points of the night.
“If you weren’t there, it was simply unbelievable,” Wojcik said. “It was one of those games. It was just crazy. Our guys simply kept believing and came away with the win.”
Ironically, the two premier small-school programs that season later met in a rubber match in Charleston for the Class A state championship. Central — still riding a high from the game a few weeks prior, prevailed, 65-61. That title began a string of four consecutive state titles for the Knights.