STEUBENVILLE – One of the best comebacks in the history of the annual city championship series (Big Red and Catholic Central now have met 155 times on the hardwood) came up just a little short Friday.
Big Red owned a 20-point third quarter lead before holding on for dear life to escape with a 63-57 victory inside a jam-packed Mickey Barber Gymnasium.
Friday’s win, coupled with a 66-54 victory earlier in the season, gives Mike Haney’s club the 2013-2014 city championship.
“As long as we are playing this series, it’s always a goal to win the city championship,” Haney said. “We’re happy with that, but we have to play a little better. Give credit to their coaches and their defense, they really got after us.
“We told our guys at halftime that Central was going to keep fighting. Nobody is going to quit in this game, either team, whoever is down. We knew that was going to happen.”
Big Red, now 9-2, never trailed after seniors Adam Sterling and Brandon Herring-Hill scored the game’s first four points. Haney’s cagers were up 18-10 after one and 35-20 at the break. In the first half, Big Red nailed 13 of 22 field goal attempts with seven hoops coming from behind the arc.
Sterling’s conventional three-point play late in the third put Big Red up 53-33. The Crusaders, now 9-5, finished the stanza by scoring six straight (Ryan Fletcher had four of the six and John Paul Dombrowski added a deuce).
Matt Martello opened the fourth with a triple and Michael Barber followed seconds later to make it 55-45. Martello struck again from downtown range and it was 58-51 the Red with 4:15 to play. Dombrowski’s conventional three point play (he got his two off a nifty M. Barber assist) along with his bucket following an offensive rebound pulled the hosts to within four (60-56) with 2:10 left to play.
Big Red put the victory away with on free throw makes by Sterling and Chris Smith. The winners attempted 14 freebies during the final eight minutes, making just six. For the night, Big Red was 11 of 21 from the line.
“They (Central) played a great second half,” Haney stated. “We came out, turned the ball over (Big Red finished with 20 turnovers) and we don’t make our foul shots. Then we take a couple of bad shots and they start getting hot with the threes. Those threes really made our lead go down a lot faster.”
Central, which played most of the game with six-man rotation after Michael Manfresca went out with an injury, had several chances to put closer following Big Red free throw makes but the Crusaders were unable to convert.
“Tonight came down to heart and hustle and our kids are well aware of that,” Central’s Sean Tucker said. “You can’t play two quarters of basketball or one quarter and you can’t be nonchalant out there. We should be playing 32 minutes of basketball at this point in the season and we didn’t have that tonight
“It (the late rally) means nothing when you don’t play with heart in the first half. You can do whatever you want as a coach to get your team prepared but they have to play the game and they have to understand the importance. If they don’t, you can’t do it for them.”
Sterling took game scoring honors with 22. He also had 10 rebounds and six steals. Herring-Hill, who sat out most of the second quarter with foul problems, finished with 10. C. Smith added nine points and dished out six assists. Charles Reeves came off Haney’s bench to contribute eight while Khaliq Bougard had seven.
“We had guys come off the bench and give some great minutes in the first half,” Haney commented. “We actually were able to increase our lead with Herring-Hill on the bench in the second quarter.
“We always tell our guys you never know when your time is coming. We had some guys really step up and play well. Reeves and Bougard both did a great job.”
Fletcher paced the Crusaders with 16, 11 coming in the second half. Martello added 13, scoring 10 following the intermission. Central outscored Big Red 37-28 during the final two quarters.
Dombrowski added eight and grabbed 10 rebounds.
“It’s frustrating when you try to tell them what they need to do and they don’t do it,” Tucker said. “It gets more frustrating when they do whatever they want. Good teams like Big Red are going to beat you when that happens. And from here on out, we play good teams.
“We have to play like we know how to play, like we did Tuesday night (Central knocked off Wheeling Central earlier in the week). We had no chance to win tonight with the way we played in the first half, nor did we deserve to win.”
Both teams return to action today. Big Red hosts Minerva (the junior varsity squads tip at 3 p.m.) while the Crusaders travel to Conotton Valley.
WEIRTON – “Everything clicked” was how Madonna coach, George Vargo, explained what happened in his team’s 87-42 city championship win Friday night over Weir High at the Dubie Dome.
The Blue Dons were winning their fourth straight city title and, boy, did they click.
Madonna scored the first 22 points of the game before the injury-ridden young Red Riders could get on the board. The Blue Dons all but insured the outcome in the first quarter with a 25-2 lead.
And the onslaught didn’t stop there. The Blue Dons scored 27 more points in the second quarter to Weir High’s 12 to go into the intermission ahead by 52-14.
“Everything we did was right tonight,” Vargo said. “Our full court and half court defenses went well, we ran our half court offensive sets good, rebounded well, ran well and we kept our composure.”
In addition, the Blue Dons out rebounded the Riders 35-27 and shot the basketball well with several offensive boards and putbacks. Madonna scorched the nets making 30 of 69 field goal attempts and finished with 10 three-pointers.
“Everything went in tonight,” said Vargo, whose club improved it’s record to 7-2. “(Ross) Comis made a couple of threes and (Nick) Mazure came off the bench and made some threes and Matt Lyons (a freshman) hit one late in the game.”
The Blue Dons accepted the traveling trophy sponsored by the Weirton Rotary Club following the game. Vargo said it is the first time in the history of Madonna High School that they have won the city championship four years in a row.
“I’ve been doing this 32 years now,” said Weir High’s Mike Granato. “I’ve never had a scenario where I’ve lost three starters in a year let alone three in the past seven games.”
Already without two starters, senior Kamari Washington, who left the team, and sophomore Jo. Jo West, who injured a knee, Granato’s starting point guard, sophomore Marcus Smith, went down during pre-game warmups with a sprained ankle.
“He was a key for some different things we are trying to do,” Granato said. “That’s not why we lost, but all of a sudden now here we are forced to play a lot of inexperienced kids.
“I tip my hat to Madonna. They have a great ball club and certainly those kinds of things are not why we won or lost, but what we’ve got to do now is focus on the guys that are healthy and the guys that are ready to go with the idea that down the road maybe it will help us create some depth.
“We had a lot of young kids out there – freshmen, sophomores. They really stepped up. I know it sounds kind of crazy when the score is 87-42 and you talk about how proud you were of your kids’ effort. Regardless of how shaky it may have gotten, I thought they left it out on the floor.
“When you get that kind of effort all you can do is tip your hat to the other guy. When you’re missing some key ingredients it’s tough to make good soup.”
Sophomore Ryan Kirk and freshmen, Cody Enrietti and Chayton Luevano led the Red Riders in scoring with eight points each and Kirk, who started the game in place of the injured Smith, and Enrietti led their club in rebounding with five apiece.
Meanwhile, 13 Madonna players got in on the scoring with senior Ross Comis leading the way with 21. Comis also had four assists and two steals.
Mazur came off the bench and knocked down four bombs from behind the arc and added a two-pointer for 14 points.
Madonna’s 7-foot senior center, Josh Martin, scored in double figures for the second straight game nailing six field goals and a free throw for 13 points. Martin also led the Blue Don rebounding with eight off the glass.
“I’m proud of winning the city championship four times in a row for the first time in school history,” Vargo continued. “I’m proud of it for the kids and our alumni including a lot of people that have played for me over the past 20 years here at Madonna. That game was for a lot of people tonight.
“I tried to be a professional and a gentleman trying to keep the score as close as possible. I want to thank the Weirton Rotary for sponsoring the trophy, too. I think that’s the first time that four people from Rotary came to the game for the presentation and that’s nice community leadership.
“I’m real happy with the way things turned out. We’re going into Sunday looking at OVAC points. We’re probably number one in the OVAC. This game gives us a lot of points, but we have a tough road now. We’ll find out what we’re made of this next week.
“We travel to Morgantown Wednesday to play Trinity, then come back home to play Steubenville Catholic Central Thursday at 6 p.m. at Franciscan University and then go on the road to Magnolia next Saturday to play Williamstown at 4 p.m.
“So we have a pretty tough road Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and all three teams are pretty darned good.”
Weir High (1-8) plays at Oak Glen next Tuesday.
WEIRTON – Coaches say that when a team plays good defense good things happen and that’s what Madonna girls basketball coach, Don Ogden, was saying Thursday night after his Lady Blue Dons won the annual City Championship game, 48-38 at the Carl R. Hamill Fieldhouse.
“We emphasized playing straight up defense, don’t take chances, don’t take risks,” Ogden explained. “Make them earn their shots.
“Weir High’s record (2-10) doesn’t indicate how good they are. They’re a good club and it was a typical championship game.”
The Lady Red Riders had won the city title the last two years after the Lady Blue Dons had won it three years in a row from 2008 to 2010.
“You know my wife always tells me that I’m going to miss her one day, and she’s right. I sure did miss that trophy,” Ogden said with a chuckle.
His Blue Dons trailed only once and that was when Weir High senior Ashlynn Drizake opened the game with a short baseline jumper.
Drizake received a head injury in the second quarter and didn’t play the entire second half, which hurt the Lady Red Rider rebounding. She had three boards before she left the game, but Madonna won the board battle 29-19.
Madonna junior Rachael Grubbs gave the Lady Riders fits all game. She scored 11 of her 17 points in the first half as the Blue Dons took a 27-17 lead at the intermission. She also grabbed seven rebounds.
Sophomore Monica Bragg was another thorn in the side of the Weir High defense. She also scored 17 points and led Madonna with nine rebounds.
“They hit the offensive board,” said Ogden. “That’s one of the things we stressed on the missed shot let’s attack the boards. We thought we could have some success on the offensive board if we were aggressive and we did.”
Weir High came out in the third quarter and outscored the Blue Dons 9-8, but by the 2:53 mark of the fourth period, when Bragg got nothing but net on a foul shot, Madonna was in command with an 18 point lead at 46-28.
“They outplayed us in every phase of the game,” said veteran Weir High coach, Bill Smith. “It’s as simple as that. My hat is off to them. They came ready to play tonight and we weren’t.”
After the Blue Dons got the big lead in the fourth period, Ogden had his team hold on to the ball and play a keep away game.
However, that’s when Weir High seniors Alyssa Shingle and Maddie Dalrymple got hot. Dalrymple started a 10-2 game-ending run for the Lady Red Riders when she grabbed a rebound and put the ball back up for two.
Shingle drilled a three-pointer home to make it 46-33.
Madonna sophomore Isabella Rosso sent two free throws through the hoop, but Dalrymple banked another layup home and Shingle hit from three again to cut the final margin to 10 points. Shingle made two other shots from behind the arc in the third period to finish with four bonus shots.
While losing Drizake hurt the Riders they also had starters, Selena Wolverton, Shingle, Raegan Stead and Dalrymple in foul trouble in the second half forcing Smith to juggle his lineup throughout.
“You never know when the Shingle girl is going to light up,” Ogden said of his reasoning for going with the delay offense down the stretch. “When she does, it’s a nightmare. We were working against the clock and fortunately we had a big enough lead.
“Early in the game we wanted to take the ball to them because Dalrymple is a force in the middle when she’s in there. We told the girls for every two shots she blocks maybe we’ll get a foul and make her sit down and we did do that for a little bit and it just went well.”
Smith felt his team’s shooting was off again.
“We maybe shot well once in the last five games,” he explained. “When we don’t shoot well, we’re in trouble because we’re not strong rebounders. We don’t get those offensive rebounds and putbacks.
“We practice rebounding and boxing out all the time, but we get into a game and I don’t see anybody putting the body on the other team. It’s not a hard game. I talked to them before the game about boxing out and putting a body on somebody. If we don’t, it will be a long night and it was.
“They just played us really well.”
Stead finished with 14 points as the Riders had only four girls score.
Both teams return to action Saturday on the road.
Weir High travels to Benwood to play Bishop Donahue in a varsity only game that starts at noon. Madonna travels to Bellaire St. John for a noon junior varsity start.