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Crusaders hang on to early lead, defeat Blue Dons

CONTESTING — Catholic Central’s Luca Connor has his shot contested by Madonna’s Evan Boniti on Friday. -Joe Catullo

STEUBENVILLE — Don Ogden put his Catholic Central basketball squad through a couple of tough practices following Tuesday’s disappointing loss to Toronto.

That hard work paid off for the Crusaders Friday, as they built a big lead early, then made a bunch of free throws down the stretch to earn a 67-60 victory over cross-river rival Madonna inside a packed Mickey Barber Gymnasium.

“We didn’t take it easy on the kids the past couple of days,” Ogden said after watching his squad improve to 4-10 and avenge a late December 72-66 loss to the Blue Dons. “We challenged them, we even changed our rotation and our starting lineup. To a man, the kids responded, and tonight we played like a team. When we play like a team — you never know what is going to happen.

“Coaching against coach (George) Vargo is like coaching against a brother. It’s like playing a family member. I have nothing but the ultimate respect for him and his coaching staff. They do a wonderful job. I say this with all due respect, it’s an honor to go against a quality coaching staff like that and be fortunate enough to come out on top.”

A hoop by Isaac Hough gave Central a 13-12 lead after the opening quarter. Madonna’s Brennan Secrist scored to open the second. Jack Rook then drilled a three for Central before freshman Andrew Dorsey, who made his first varsity start, drilled a couple of freebies to put the Crusaders up 18-14. The score went to 18-16 on another Secrist bucket.

That’s when Central put together a 10-0 scoring run to take the lead for good. Rook started the spree with a connection from behind the arc and ended it with another triple. In between, Charles Miller knocked down a pair of short range jumpers.

Ogden’s club led 33-19 at the intermission. The lead remained at double digits for most of the third quarter. The Blue Dons, who turned up the defensive heat in the second half, pulled to within eight (46-38) heading into the fourth thanks to a conventional three-point play by Lucky Pulice.

Madonna kept battling in the fourth and narrowed the gap to four (61-57) late in the game on a Peyton Moore three. Luca Connor made six consecutive free throws to put the win on ice for Central.

On the night, Ogden’s club shot 41 free throws, 20 coming in the final quarter. The Crusaders were nine of 11 from the line in the third quarter and 16 for 20 during the final frame. Central had 14 field goals compared to 20 for the Blue Dons.

“The question I’m asking if did we really foul that much,” Vargo said. “I need to watch the film and see. If we did, then the officials called a great game.

“If we fouled that many times, then I have to do a much better job of coaching defense. Forty-one foul shots in high school basketball is unnecessary.”

Connor led Central in scoring with a game-high 28, 17 of his points came from the line. Rook, who connected four times from behind the arc, contributed 14 and Miller netted 12 to go along with a team-leading eight rebounds. Dorsey had six points, all coming from the stripe.

“I’ll take it,” Ogden said when discussing his team’s free-throw shooting performance. “We came through from the line tonight. Foul shooting has not been one of our big things. We’ve been working on that and emphasizing that so hopefully we will continue to have success with it after tonight.

“Madonna came out in the second half and applied some pressure. We still need to get better when it comes to dealing with that kind of pressure.”

Central finished with 18 turnovers, 12 coming during the final 16 minutes.

The Blue Dons, now 6-4, has three players reach double figures. Matt Amaismeier led the way with 17. He knocked down five triples. As a team, Madonna drilled 10. Evan Boniti contributed 12 (he swished two 3-pointers) and Secrist added 10 before fouling out. He hauled down six rebounds and had a couple of blocks.

“I’m from the old school,” Vargo said. “I believe games are won by playing good, hard defense and making foul shots. Coach Ogden’s team did a great job of making foul shots tonight.

“Give coach Ogden a lot of credit. He had his team prepared and his guys played harder than we did. They wanted it more than we did — that’s high school basketball.”

Game note:

Evan Bone scored 11 points as Madonna collected a 49-32 victory in the junior varsity game.

Dorsey had six for Central.

UP NEXT

Madonna: Hosts Beallsville Tuesday.

Central: Visits Edison Tuesday.

Catholic Central 67, Madonna 60

Madonna 12-7-19-22 — 60

Central 13-20-13-21 — 67

MADONNA (6-4): Secrist 3 4-6 10; Sessi 1 0-0 2; Arlia 1 2-2 5; Boniti 4 2-5 12; Moore 1 0-0 3; Dietrich 0 0-0 0; Burdine 0 0-0 0; Amaismeier 6 0-0 17; Pulice 3 2-2 9; Bone 1 0-1 2; Gasvoda 0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 20, 10-17: 60.

CENTRAL (4-10): Rook 4 2-2 14; Connor 5 17-20 28; LeFever 0 0-0 0; Hough 1 0-1 2; Anderson 0 0-0 0; Miller 4 4-4 12; Venditti 0 2-2 2; Maragos 0 3-4 3; Dorsey 0 6-8 6; Lesnefsky 0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 14, 34-41: 67.

3-POINT GOALS: Madonna 10 (Amaismeier 5; Boniti 2; Pulice; Arlia; Moore). Central 5 (Rook 4; Connor). REBOUNDS: Madonna 21 (Secrist 6); Central 24 (Miller 8). TURNOVERS: Madonna 16; Central 18.

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