Catholic Central takes a bite out of Bulldogs

STEUBENVILLE – The Catholic Central boys were back in town Saturday and they found their intensity just in time to send the fans home happy.

Playing inside the Mickey Barber Gymnasium for the first time since Dec. 18, the Crusaders broke open a tight contest with a pair of 9-0 second-half scoring runs to earn a 64-53 victory over Bridgeport.

The visiting Bulldogs scored the final seven points of the first quarter to pull even at 15. A triple by Bailey McGrath along with hoops from Parker Dyson and Jon Kreiter sparked the Bridgeport burst.

Central was able to grab a 24-22 halftime lead thanks to Ryan Fletcher’s play in the second stanza. He connected from the line to tie things at 20, drained a three off a set inbounds play then knocked down another freebie.

Bridgeport was able to stay close based on its outstanding shooting performance. The ‘Dogs were 10 of 19 during the first 16 minutes.

Things started to go downhill after Q.J. Williams got the first hoop of the third period. Michael Barber knocked one down from behind the arc. Fletcher scored off a steal then put back a Barber miss. Zach Herrington and Fletcher swished free throws and it was 33-24 Crusaders.

A three ball by Matt Martello made it 46-36 Central after three. During the frame, the pressing Central defense forced eight Bridgeport turnovers.

“We did pick up our intensity in the second half,” Sean Tucker said of his now 11-2 club. “One of our many leaders suggested we press full court. That’s another great example of our players taking it upon themselves to make things happen. These kids are relentless, they claw, they’re scrappy and it’s a joy to be around them.”

The second Central run came in the final quarter after McGrath pulled Donnie Cash’s club to within nine (53-44) by sinking both ends of a one and one. Barber scored on one of his several drives to the hoop then off a nifty feed from Michael Carapellotti. Carapellotti recorded an “and one,” the two-pointer coming off a Michael Manfresca assist. Herrington added a pair of free tosses to put the game out of reach at 62-44.

“We just didn’t match their intensity at the start of the third quarter,” Cash pointed out. “I can honestly say I’m proud of my guys. They put four quarters together tonight against a very good team. We played hard all night.”

Herrington paced Central in scoring with 22 and finished off the double-double by pulling down 10 rebounds Barber added 16 (nine coming on a trio of triples) and Fletcher 14.

“Give our kids all the credit in the world,” Tucker noted. “You’re asking these kids to play two nights in a row and give it their all (the Crusaders knocked off Barnesville Friday) and that’s tough. These kids have overcome a lot of adversity since we’ve had four sets of back-to-back nights.

“They knew we didn’t play well offensively in the first half. We did play well defensively and that’s our strength. We made some adjustments at halftime and these kids are able to answer their own questions. That tells us how mature they are becoming. These kids pressed both nights and did a good job. I’m very proud of them.”

Central will stay at home for a Tuesday date with Wheeling Central.

Kreiter and Williams led Bridgeport, now 2-9, with 12 points each. Dallas Fields and McGrath evenly divided 20. The Bulldogs also had a back-to-back weekend, having played Cameron on Friday. The visitors did win the rebounding battle 28-26, Dyson collecting eight. Unfortunately, they also were guilty of 26 turnovers, most coming in the second half.

“Our kids didn’t hang their heads, they were pulling for each other the whole game,” Cash said. “We got down early, we battled back and we made it a game. I don’t think the final score was indicative of how close this game was.

“We knew it was going to be a tough game against Central. We’re a young team and we hung in there.”

Bridgeport returns to action Tuesday, traveling to Shadyside.