STEUBENVILLE - Catholic Central made the final quarter its best quarter in Tuesday's showdown with Conotton Valley.
Down two (33-31) after three, the Crusaders were tenacious on defense and efficient on offense, outscoring the Rockets 26-13 to earn a 57-46 victory. Coupled with a 67-59 triumph back in December, Central, now 13-4, swept the regular season series from Mike Fierbaugh's club.
"They played like they know how," Central's Sean Tucker said of his team's fourth-quarter performance. "They played like they practiced Monday. We had one of the best practices this group has ever had Monday. Tonight, they proved what can happen when you practice hard.
"This was a total team win, and I mean total. There were some guys who didn't get into the game, but Monday in practice, those guys were forcing the starters to play better and harder. We actually played tonight like we should play every time out. You know when they have that look in their eyes that they are in the zone and ready to play."
A deep three by Zach Lyon gave Conotton Valley the advantage after the third stanza. The Central offensive explosion started when Zach Herrington scored off a Brenton Colabella feed and Matt Martello converted a Michael Manfresca pass into a triple.
Brandon Bailey, the outstanding 6-6 senior post player, answered for the Rockets and Herrington followed by drilling a pair of free tosses. Aleks Porreca laid one home after a Herrington steal before Lyon drained another three-ball. That made it 40-38 Central.
Martello tickled the twine from behind the arc, off yet another Herrington assist, and then knocked down a jumper to keep the Crusader burst going. Porreca scored the next four (two coming from the line and two off a layup, Herrington assisting again). By then, the Crusaders were up nine (49-40) and the outcome was pretty much settled.
During the final eight minutes, Central was a blazing 7-for-11 from the floor and 10-of-12 from the line.
Defensively, Tucker went with a full court press and that move caused the Rockets all sorts of problems. The visitors, who were guilty of 16 turnovers on the night, threw the ball away six times down the stretch.
"We were worried about our fouls with Bailey and they were calling a tight game," Tucker noted. "We did start getting into foul trouble and we were concerned about going to a press earlier. We were waiting for the right moment and coach (Joe) Ribar suggested we jump into it in the fourth.
"We went into one of our stronger presses and caught them off guard. That was a game changing moment. We were short-legged and have a couple of guys sick (Michael Carapellotti missed the game with an illness and Ryan Fletcher's playing time was limited by his health) but our guys really stepped up when we needed them."
Tucker added, "We had some guys who are great defensive players, who happened to bring it offensively tonight. We finished at the free throw line and we finished by the rim and there have been games this season when we didn't do either."
Those "great defensive players" Tucker referred to are juniors Manfresca and Porreca. Pressed into the starting lineup, Manfresca responded by recording four steals, grabbing a handful of rebounds and scoring five points. Porreca, on the other hand, recorded a career-high 12 markers, 10 coming in the final period. He was 3-of-4 from the field and a perfect 4-for-4 from the stripe.
"I can't be more proud of Manny and Aleks," Tucker pointed out. "They're our seventh and eighth guys. We told them earlier in the year the time would come when they'd have serious roles. Here we are in game 17 and they came full go.
"Manny did a great job defensively and Aleks, he's like a road runner, he just keeps going and going. Tonight he finished because he worked his tail off in practice. I'm really proud of them and all the guys. This was a total team win."
Central, thanks to five points from Martello and four from Colabella, held a 14-7 advantage after one. The Crusaders were up 22-21 at the intermission.
Martello paced Central in scoring with 15. He hoisted eight shots and made six, three coming from behind the arc. Herrington had a double-double, 13 points and 10 assists. He had five in the opening period. The Central senior fell just three rebounds short of a triple-double. He collected seven of his team's 23 boards.
For the Rockets, now 11-6, Bailey had his usual strong game, 20 points and 11 rebounds (CV had 27 as a team). Lyon and Brandon Robin scored eight each.
Central, which should be the top seed in the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference Class AA tournament, returns to action Friday when Weirton Madonna visits the Mickey Barber Gymnasium. The Crusaders will celebrate Senior Night and also honor members of the 1993 OVAC championship team.
Catholic Central 57, Conotton Valley 46
Conotton Valley 7 14 12 13 - 46
Catholic Central 14 8 9 26 - 57
CONOTTON VALLEY (11-6): Bowdish 0 0-0 0; Robin 2 4-5 8; Vaughan 1 0-0 2; Carrothers 2 0-1 4; Lyon 3 0-0 8; Gallagher 0 4-4 4; Bailey 9 2-6 20. TOTALS: 17 10-16 46. 3-pointers: Lyon (2); Rebounds 27 (Bailey 11); Turnovers 16.
CATHOLIC CENTRAL (13-4): M. Barber 1 1-2 3; Martello 6 0-0 15; Colabella 2 1-2 5; Herrington 3 6-8 13; Fletcher 2 0-0 4; Porreca 4 4-4 12; Manfresca 2 1-4 5; T. Barber 0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 20 13-20 57. 3-pointers: Martello (3), Herrington; Rebounds: 23 (Herrington 7); Turnovers: 7.