STEUBENVILLE - Catholic Central took the lead with some second quarter offensive fireworks then held it with solid defense down the stretch as it earned a 59-52 victory over Wheeling Central Tuesday.
"A great victory - absolutely," Crusader coach Sean Tucker said. "When a game is on the line and your five guys can play solid defense and force a team like Wheeling Central to turn the ball over, you know you are accomplishing your goals."
Up by a point (11-10) after the opening frame, the Crusaders (9-4) extended their advantage to 23-17 when Ryan Fletcher scored off a steal. Following a triple by Maroon Knight Boyd Bibey, Tucker's team reeled off six straight. Tony Barber got things going when he turned a defensive swipe into points. Michael Barber and Matt Martello swished four free tosses and Central held a 29-20 advantage at the break.
After a miserable shooting start (the Crusaders were just four of 16 during the opening eight minutes), Central nailed six of 11 second quarter tries.
Michael Barber's runner in the lane put the hosts ahead 36-25 early in the third. The margin grew to 12 (42-29) when Martello drilled a three-ball. Hoops by Alonzo Manns and David Park pulled Mel Stephens' club to within 8 (46-38) heading into the final frame. Sophomore Chase Harler, held to six first half points, caught fire for the Knights in the third. He scored 10 of his squad's 16 points.
Harler opened the fourth with five points to make it 46-43. Six straight Fletcher tallies (his first bucket came following a nifty Michael Manfresca feed) gave the Crusaders a little breathing room at 52-45. Following two Harler makes from the line, Manfresca recorded a steal then assisted on another Fletcher two-pointer. Harler's conventional three-pointers make it 55-50 late.
Manfresca and Fletcher knocked four throws to seal the deal for the Crusaders, who dropped a tough 67-60 overtime verdict to the Knights in the finals of Undo's Upper Ohio Valley Tournament in December.
"These kids know their backs are up against the wall going into OVAC time," Tucker said. "This week is very important to use when it comes to the OVAC playoffs (Central will host Big Red Friday). We're taking it one game at a time.
"Every single senior stepped up. Our bench played a huge role. We rotated guys extremely well and had guys rested.
Central was number three in this week's OVAC Class AAA standings (the top four teams make the playoffs in each class). The Maroon Knights, now 6-2, held the top spot in Class 2A.
The Crusader defensive pressure forced the visitors into 17 ball-handling miscues, 12 coming in the opening half.
"It's always better when your team forces turnovers instead of the other team doing it to you," Tucker said. "We made no extreme adjustments at the half, we just talked to our guys about being in the gaps and being in help defense. They did a fantastic job. Our seniors were just phenomenal tonight and our bench really stepped up."
Fletcher paced Central with 17 points, 10 coming in the fourth quarter. Martello added 12 and M. Barber 11. Brenton Colabella finished with seven and John Paul Dombrowski six. Fletcher grabbed eight of Central's 28 rebounds and Colabella six.
After converting eight of 10 free throws during the first three quarters, the winners were just five of 13 in the fourth.
Harler took game scoring honors with 30. He scored 24 of his team's 32 second half points. Park, Manns and Bibey finished with sic each.
Harler and Park both hauled down 10 boards. The visitors shot just nine free throws (they never went to the line in the first half) and made seven.
Catholic Central 59, Wheeling Central 52
W. Central 10 10 18 14 52
Central 11 11 17 13 59
WHEELING CENTRAL (6-2): Burch 0 0-0 0; Park 3 0-0 6; Stanley 1 0-0 2; Harler 11 5-7 30; John 1 0-0 2; Burkhalter 0 0-0 0; Merrick 0 0-0 0; Manns 2 2-2 6; Campbell 0 0-0 0; Bibey 2 0-1 6. TOTALS: 20 7-9 52. 3-pointers: Harler 3; Bibey 2; Rebounds 29 (Harler and Park 10); Turnovers 17.
CENTRAL (9-4): M. Barber 3 4-6 11; Colabella 2 1-2 7; T. Barber 2 0-0 4; Manfresca 0 2-4 2; Fletcher 7 2-6 17; Martello 3 4-4 12; Dombrowski 3 0-0 6. TOTALS: 20 13-23 59. 3-pointers: Colabella 2; Martello 2; Fletcher; M. Barber; Rebounds 28 (Fletcher 8; Colabella 6); Turnovers 7.