Crusaders stop Dragons, head to 2A final

STEUBENVILLE – Practice does indeed pay huge dividends – just ask the Catholic Central boys basketball squad.

The Crusaders spent Monday working on their offense against zone defenses. In Tuesday’s Wheeling Hospital Ohio Valley Athletic Conference Class 2A tournament semifinal, they reaped the fruits of their labor.

Sean Tucker’s club shot a torrid 53 percent from the floor (29 of 55) to easily dispose of Cameron, 81-42, and clinch a berth in Saturday’s 10 a.m. title game on the campus of Ohio University-Eastern. The Crusaders will be looking for revenge when they square off against Wheeling Central.

Earlier in the season, the Maroon Knights handed Central, who played that game without Zach Herrington and Michael Carapellotti, a 59-42 setback.

“Zone defenses have been hurting us all year, so for two hours of practice Monday we worked on nothing but our offense against a zone,” Tucker said. “We worked against every zone defense we could possibly see tonight and the next three games.

“The kids were very patient, they took smart shorts and were very selective. They did a great job. We prepared well Monday and that’s something we have to keep doing.”

Central got seven points from Ryan Fletcher to grab a 15-10 lead after the opening period. The hosts then knocked down five of their first seven second-stanza shots to go up by 12 (27-15).

Michael Barber keyed the Crusader burst when he swished a triple and then nailed a jumper in the lane. Michael Manfresca came off Tucker’s bench to score four; his second hoop followed a steal on the defensive end. Herrington also connected from behind the arc.

Fletcher helped the hosts maintain the double-digit advantage when he recorded back-to-back hoops off offensive rebounds. The Crusaders led 39-22 at the intermission.

“In the first quarter, we played really sluggish, particularly on the defensive end,” Tucker noted. “We hadn’t seen Cameron before and we got a little better feel for them in the second. We started playing harder and more aggressive.”

Logan Routt, Cameron’s 6-8 sophomore, nailed a pair of free throws to open the third. After that, the Crusaders put the game away, scoring 13 unanswered points.

Matt Martello drilled triples on two straight trips to the offensive end and Barber recorded a pair of hoops. By the time the quarter ended, Central had a 61-30 lead.

“In the third quarter we didn’t play down, like we have in previous games,” Tucker said. “We came out of the locker room and played hard. We were aggressive, attacked the bucket and finished inside. That was a key for us.”

Fletcher took game scoring honors with 22. Herrington added 15 and Barber 13. Manfresca finished with eight. Brenton Colabella scored just three points but dished out five of Central’s 21 assists. Herrington hauled down eight of his team’s 34 rebounds. In addition to its outstanding shooting night from the floor, Central also went 17 for 23 from the charity stripe.

Mark Walker and Hunter Chambers both scored 12 for the Dragons, now 10-8. Routt ended with 11, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked seven shots.

“We actually had more turnovers than we did rebounds and that’s very uncharacteristic for us,” Cameron’s Chad Clutter said.

“We are a much better team than we showed tonight. We’ve had two bad games in the last few weeks. We’ve been out of sync maybe because the snow and cancellations have taken a toll on us.

“That benefitted the Crusaders tonight; they get to go play for the OVAC championship. They have a nice team. They’re very deep and very methodical. They did a nice job tonight.”

Cameron will host Clay-Battelle in the 2A championship consolation game Friday.

“We’re a young team,” the Dragon coach continued. “Our point guard is a freshman and our big guy is a sophomore. We’ve had some growing pains. We need to take care of the ball better and get into our offense. We did have a lot of nice shots in the third quarter but they weren’t falling.”

Central will take a 15-5 mark into the title game, Tucker’s first as head coach.

“It’s a wonderful feeling,” he noted. “One of the goals of the kids and the program, especially the seniors, was for us to have a trip to the finals. The kids worked hard all year and the coaching staff has worked extremely hard to get us where we are.

“Now, we have to prove something Saturday. Being the No. 1 seed doesn’t mean anything. We have a lot of work to do. When the kids come in tomorrow, we’ll start preparing for Wheeling Central.”

Catholic Central, 81, Cameron 42

Cameron 10 12 8 12 – 42

Catholic Central 15 24 22 20 – 81

CAMERON (10-8): R. Clutter 0 0-0 0; C. Clutter 0 0-0 0; Walker 3 5-8 12; Hall 2 2-2 6; Canas 0 0-0 0; Williams 0 0-1 0; Yoho 0 0-0 0; Chambers 6 0-0 12; Routt 4 3-3 11; Pegg 0 1-2 1. TOTALS: 15 11-16 42. 3-pointers: Walker; Rebounds 22 (Routt 6); Turnovers 23.

CATHOLIC CENTRAL (15-5): M. Barber 5 2-2 13; Colabella 1 1-1 3; T. Barber 0 0-0 0; Manfresca 3 2-2 8; Fletcher 8 5-6 22; Herrington 4 5-8 15; Martello 2 0-0 6; Porreca 2 2-2 6; Kotur 0 0-0 0; Dombrowski 3 0-2 6; Hoard 1 0-0 2. TOTALS: 29 17-23 81. 3-pointers: M. Barber, Martello (2), Fletcher, Herrington (2); Rebounds: 34 (Herrington 8); Turnovers: 14.