Knights turn season around
ST. MARYS – With 3.3 seconds left to play and Wheeling Central’s season at stake, David Park stepped to the foul line.
The score was tied at 48-48 in a West Virginia Class A Region One co-Final at the Dan Greenleaf Gymnasium and Park was given the opportunity to give a once 2-7 team a berth in the state tournament.
The junior took a deep breath, cocked back and drained his first attempt. The second followed the same suit.
The Maroon Knights had just punched their ticket to Charleston with the 50-48 victory Thursday.
”I was just going up with confidence,” Park said. ”I always make them during practice. That’s what confidence will do for you.”
It had been a relatively tough game for Park. After the 6-foot-4 junior received his third foul midway through the third quarter and had to sit on the bench and watch St. Marys (19-5) turn a 31-29 contest into a 38-31 advantage.
”(I thought) just go back out, don’t make stupid fouls and just play strong,” Park said. ”Don’t play out of my element. I still wanted to be physical, I just didn’t want to draw any more fouls.”
Park re-entered the game and sandwiched two free throws by Jordan Whitehair with two baskets of his own as the Maroon Knights (13-12) headed into the final quarter down five at 40-35.
Whitehair knocked down a 3-pointer to give the Devils their largest lead at eight, 43-35, but a Thomas Stanley bucket and a three by Park trimmed the deficit to two at 45-43 with 3:17 remaining.
Another Stanley basket and free throw made it 47-46 before Brandon Wallace tied the score at 48-48 with 50 seconds to go.
A five-second violation by St. Marys gave the Knights the ball back and 15 seconds later Park had his moment to shine.
”It means a lot for these guys,” Central coach Mel Stephens said. ”They battled through a 5-19 season last year and basically it was the same crew coming back. After our start, a lot of kids could have packed it in, but to these guys’ credit, they kept coming and kept trying to get better. The schedule we play forces you to come out and play hard every night or you’re going to get beat. We took some loses, but we started playing better the last half of the season and that’s what we try to do so we’re playing our best basketball come March when it really counts.”
Park finished with a game-high 21 points behind four makes from 3-point range.
”He’s one of our main guys,” Stephens said. ”If he fouls out then we’re going to have to get someone off the bench to step up a little bit. He plays pretty smart, so I felt pretty comfortable that he’d be alright in there.”
Chase Harler continued his impressive freshman campaign with 12 points, while Wallace and Stanley ended with eight and five, respectively.
Austin Bayless led the Devils with 16 points and Whitehair added 12.
”We knew coming in (St. Marys) was a good team,” Stephens said. ”Any time you have to go out on the road in the region it’s hard. We played some pretty good teams in tough places this year.
“The big thing early was realizing if you loose this one, you’re done. That kind of has an impact on high school kids.”