Steubenville Catholic Central boys basketball coach Sean Tucker has been looking forward to this game for a long time.
"This is the most important game of my coaching career and most important game of the careers of these seniors, up to now," said Tucker. "Our kids have worked so hard this year. Our program has worked so hard and has come so far to get to here. There is a lot of time and pride invested into getting here.
"It's exciting to finally be here. I'm sure nerves will play a part. But, that's up to us coaches to make sure our players are ready."
Steubenville Central meets Wheeling Central at 10 a.m. today for the Class 2A championship of the Wheeling Hospital Ohio Valley Athletic Conference Basketball Tournament at Ohio University-Eastern.
It was basically a given for the past month that Steubenville Central would finish in the top four.
For Wheeling Central, not so much.
The Maroon Knights struggled early in the year (starting 2-7) and it seemingly came down to a play-in game with Shadyside.
"It was a goal of ours to be here and, at that time early in the season, it looked a little far off," said Wheeling Central veteran mentor Mel Stephens. "We started playing better and started getting some wins and a few of the teams that were ahead of us started losing a few games, which enabled us to cut the gap a little bit.
"We can get a lot of points because of the schedule we play. We thought the Shadyside game was going to be a play-in game to remain in the top four. And that's the way it worked out."
The Maroon Knights beat the Tigers, 61-53, on Feb. 5 and that win came after three straight losses.
This is the second meeting between the two Centrals.
Wheeling Central won the first round, 59-42, on a night when Steubenville Central was without senior starters Zach Herrington and Michael Carapellotti, who were sick.
"We played well that night, but I think our kids understand they were shorthanded," said Stephens.
The Crusaders' top six are Herrington (14.5 points a game), Carapellotti and juniors Ryan Fletcher (15.8), Matt Martello, Michael Barber and Brenton Colabella.
Coming off the bench are juniors Michael Manfresca and Aleks Porreca.
"We like how our kids are playing," said Tucker. "We didn't play well the other night against Malvern. But, we came back and worked hard during practice against different zone defenses and that paid off in the win over Cameron (81-42). We played well that night.
"I think we are playing really good basketball right now and the kids think they can play better. When the kids say that we have to play better, that makes you feel good as a coach because you know they aren't satisfied and they are willing to work a little harder and do what it takes to get there.
"This is a great group of kids who pride themselves on friendship, teamwork, hard work and hustle. They know what it takes for us to win and they are willing to do it."
Wheeling Central is led by freshman Chase Harler and junior David Park, who both average 17 points a game.
The Maroon Knights are making their first OVAC finals appearance since 2009, and third overall. They won the title in 2008 and 2009.