Central stops Madonna

STEUBENVILLE – Defensive pressure and red-hot free throw shooting made the difference Friday as Catholic Central whipped Madonna 69-44 on Senior Night.

The Blue Dons, playing their second game in as many nights, hung with the Crusaders for the opening 16 minutes and trailed by five (27-22) at the break. Sean Tucker’s club turned up the defensive heat in the third stanza and Madonna fell apart, committing 10 turnovers.

Central took advantage of those miscues to run off 15 consecutive points. A three-ball by Matt Martello capped the burst and put the Crusaders ahead 43-24. The hosts outscored Madonna 21-8 during the period to grab a 48-30 lead.

Central knocked down 11 of 14 free tosses in building the double-digit spread.

When discussing the third quarter turnaround, Tucker credited “great adjustments at halftime.”

“We talked to the kids and pointed some things out that we needed to change,” he said. “The kids executed those change in the third quarter. They wanted to win and they wanted to play hard.”

Madonna’s George Vargo noted “they picked up the tempo on defense and we couldn’t handle it. We have young guards, a young team and we’re going through some growing pains.

“That’s what happens when we play a veteran club. Coach Tucker has his team rolling and playing great basketball. Plus, they did an outstanding job at the free throw line tonight.”

For the game, played before a standing room only crowd inside the Mickey Barber Gymnasium, Central was 76 percent from the line, knocking down 28 of 37 tries.

“I’m absolutely happy with that performance,” Tucker pointed out. “They’ll tell you I’m never satisfied and of course I’d like to see them make more shots. We have a deal where we reward them for shooting 75 percent or better. And naturally I’m willing to do that.”

Central held a 12-10 lead after one quarter. Madonna was able to stay close thanks to six points from James Carnes. Ryan Fletcher scored six of his own during the second stanza. During the first half, the Blue Dons had nine field goals compared to eight for the Crusaders. Central built the 27-22 lead by going 10 for 12 from the line.

Fletcher started the third with a free throw before Madonna’s Josh Martin made it 28-24 with an offensive put back. From there, it was all Central.

Michael Barber got the scoring burst going when he tickled the twine from behind the arc. Fletcher followed with a conventional three-point play. The Crusaders then cashed in six straight free tosses before Martello’s triple.

“We knew Madonna was going to run a zone against us and we executed our zone offense well,” Tucker said. “We started crashing the boards in the second half and really boxed out well. That made a big difference.”

Fletcher paced Central, now 14-4, in scoring with 16. Brenton Colabella added 14, six coming in the final stanza. Martello added 11 and Barber nine. The Crusaders collected 28 rebounds, Zach Herrington getting eight.

Hard-working Will Bowser had eight to lead Madonna, now 5-10. Nate Guio and Tyler Ewusiak each had seven. The Blue Dons had 26 boards, Carnes hauling down seven. For the night, Vargo’s club was charged with 21 turnovers.

“They played hard and never gave up,” Vargo said of his charges. “I think that was a bright spot. There are still a lot of negatives that we need to fix. They played hard and that’s all you can ask from a bunch of young kids.”

Madonna will complete a triple-header tonight when it travels to Bishop Donahue.

Central is back at it Monday, traveling to Bridgeport.

Prior to the game, the Crusaders honored their three seniors (Herrington, Michael Carapellotti and Steve Kotur).

“I’m proud of these kids,” Tucker said. “I couldn’t ask for a better class or a better outing for them to have on senior night.

“Carp is dealing with an illness (the Crusader sharp-shooter was unable to play due to health reasons) and I know it’s killing him not to be out there. He has worked his tail off for four years to get better and be in this spot with these guys. I know the guys miss him and played hard for him tonight.”

Tucker added Kotur has “worked hard all year to get some playing time. We have a great tradition here of taking care of our seniors and he did a good job in there tonight (Kotur finished with six points).

“Zach is our senior leader and we’re going to continue to follow him if he is going to lead us.”

At the half, Central honored members of the 1993 squad, which went 18-6 and claimed a city, OVAC and sectional championships. The Crusaders were district runner-ups that season.