Park Nearly Had Upset of a Lifetime
Patriots fell in 2OT to No. 3 Zanesville
WHEELING — Wheeling Park basketball coach Michael Jebbia still remembers opening up the USA Today on Tuesday, Feb. 13 of 1996 and seeing Zanesville (18-0) ranked third in the country in the national high school basketball rankings.
He also remembers thinking how great it would feel to be on the team to end their 44-game win streak when the Patriots (11-7) met the Blue Devils later that week (Friday, Feb. 16, 1996).
Jebbia — a sophomore on the 1996 Park basketball team — and his teammates got that chance and almost made it happen as Wheeling Park fell in double overtime to Zanesville 87-76 in front of a sold out crowd inside Zanesville’s Winland Gymnasium in what proved to be one of the most memorable games in Ohio Valley history.
“To open up that paper every Tuesday when the high school rankings came out and to think ‘oh my goodness, Zanesville is third and we play them Friday.’
“It would have been neat to open up that Tuesday paper and see Zanesville drop to eighth because Wheeling Park beat them but they stayed at three and it said they beat Wheeling Park in double overtime, so we got our name in (the USA Today),” Jebbia said.
Wheeling Park, coached by the late Sam Andy, and Zanesville both won state titles in 1995 and that is when Jebbia realized what was in store for their 1996 matchup.
“Coach Andy took a couple of us to the sectional game at old St. John Arena in Steubenville,” Jebbia said. “We walked into the Zanesville-East Liverpool sectional in March of 1995 and there were about 4,500 people for this game. That is when I knew our game with them was going to be a big deal.”
The two defending state champs faced off early in 1996 with Zanesville pulling away late for the victory.
The second matchup in Zanesville wouldn’t be so easy.
“We left school early on that Friday to eat at the St. Clairsville Undo’s for our pre-game meal because there was so much buildup,” Jebbia said. “The visitors only got a small section because they had things going so well at the time that they had season ticket holders.”
The environment was nothing new to the Blue Devils.
“If you didn’t have a ticket, people lined up just to get into our gym,” Zanesville coach Scott Aronhalt said. “Both programs had a real adult following, so it was like a college atmosphere and I think that’s what made it unique.”
The full capacity crowd of over 3,000 people got just the show they were hoping for — and more.
Park’s Rafael Cruz led the way with a pair of treys and 17 first half points to spark the Patriots, who had the third-ranked Blue Devils backed up against the wall 57-44 with 5:25 to play in the fourth quarter.
That’s when Jebbia began to notice a shift in momentum. Zanesville began to hit bucket after bucket and the Patriots were just hoping to withstand the storm.
“You could feel it and we were just hoping that maybe we could hold on,” Jebbia said. “We were usually a man-to-man team but we played a 2-3 zone because we weren’t going to be as quick or nearly as athletic as them.”
Zanesville’s Cedric Hall, who finished the game with a career high 26 points, capped an 11-0 run by the Blue Devils with a 3-pointer to cut the score to 57-55 with 3:10 remaining.
“Cedric Hall hit big 3s down the stretch,” Aronhalt said. “Our guy who ran the concession stand for years actually left when we were down 13 points. The next day we brought our guys in for some light stretching and he came in to clean up the concession stand. He asked ‘how bad did you guys end up getting beat?’ I said ‘we won and if you ever leave during one of my games again you’re fired.’ We laughed so hard about it though. He just thought we were dead in the water and Cedric caught fire, hit several big 3s and that ignited us.”
Andy’s Patriots collected themselves and extended their lead back to 63-56 with 1:30 to go in the game but that simply wasn’t enough on this magical night.
Hall drained another 3 and his teammates, Seth Martin, Edwin Young and sixth man Etienne Norris all connected from the free-throw line to put the Devils up 65-63 with 28.6 seconds left.
Wheeling Park’s Darius Goodwin, the cousin of Dallas Cowboys’ special teams standout C.J. Goodwin, kept Park alive with a transition layup with 13 seconds left to put the game into overtime. That would not be his biggest shot of the night.
In a back-and-forth overtime period, Hall delivered once again on a 3-pointer from the right wing to put Zanesville ahead 74-71 with 2.7 seconds remaining.
With Park standouts Cruz and Freddie Howard covered like a blanket, Goodwin found space and took the inbound pass at halfcourt.
The sophomore took two dribbles and launched a 35-foot prayer that banked off the glass and in to tie the game at the buzzer as pandemonium ensued throughout the gym.
“Our best two players were Cruz and Howard but the two sophomore starters were myself and Goodwin,” Jebbia said. “They took Rafael and Freddie away and we couldn’t get it to them, so we inbounded it to Goodwin who banked it in from halfcourt and that place went berserk.
“Their gym had seating behind each bucket and on the sides. I just remember the crowd erupting under our bucket. Goodwin only shot free throws and layups for most of his sophomore year so for him to take this off balance 3-point shot and knock it in was our only chance.”
With the way this unforgettable game had played out, Aronhalt wasn’t shocked at all that the shot found its mark.
“I wasn’t surprised,” Aronhalt said. “Just with the level that game had been played and for him to hit that shot from halfcourt — it was obviously a great shot but you just thought something like that was going to happen in that game. You were just hoping you were going to be able to put enough plays together to be able to win it and we were fortunate enough to do that but it could have gone either way.”
Goodwin’s heroic heave was Park’s last moment of glory on this night, however, as Zanesville bucketed the first eight points of the second overtime and outscored the Patriots 13-2 in the period to keep its unblemished season intact, but not without a draining effort.
Cruz led the Park attack with 27 points, while Goodwin garnered 19, Jebbia tallied 14 and Howard added 12.
Martin followed Hall’s 26-point performance with 22 points and 15 rebounds, while Norris recorded 13 points, seven assists and four steals off the bench for Zanesville.
“Playing in that atmosphere as a sophomore was just incredible, “ Jebbia said. “When I tell our kids now that they were third in the country, they look at me like I’m speaking a foreign language. They were that good of a high school team.
“One thing about Coach Andy was he was never scared to schedule anybody. He wanted that game.”
Aronhalt has a great deal of respect for Andy and that Park team and was thrilled to witness that game.
“I love Sam Andy. We had a great relationship and both of us — if he were still here — would long to have those kinds of players again. That was a college atmosphere and college level players,” Aronhalt said. “All of those games during that time were unbelievable but that one — it was just a great game to be a part of.”