Central cuts down nets as sectional champs

MORRISTOWN – For the first time since 1993 the Steubenville Catholic Central Crusaders boys basketball team can call themselves sectional champions.

Led by Ryan Fletcher’s 33-point, 10-rebound outing, the Crusaders topped a young Zanesville Rosecrans team, 67-56, Friday in the Ohio Division IV Sectional Tournament at Union Local High School.

“We’ve been waiting 21 years,” said Central head coach Sean Tucker. “I’ve been waiting six, but we’ve been waiting 21 years to get here as our program, we’re here, and we did it. We did it because we have a group of kids that are just relentless. Anyone could have folded, threw in the towel, or whatever, but we didn’t. We picked it up in the second half, we did what we needed to do in the second half with adjustments, and our kids literally stepped up.

“There’s not one kid that didn’t step up in the second half. I’m just elated for our kids. This is just a phenomenal thing for our kids, our program, and our school. We’re sectional champs. We’ve been waiting a long time to cut the net down. It feels good.”

The Crusaders trailed 31-25 at halftime and fell behind by double-digits early in the second half before Central’s senior laden team was able to overwhelm the Bishops, who started three freshmen.

The first half saw the Bishops connect on eight 3-pointers to propel themselves to the lead at intermission. In the second half, the Crusaders held them to just a pair of 3-pointers and outscored Rosecrans, 42-25. Central held a 27-15 advantage in the fourth quarter, alone, after trailing 41-40 through the first three quarters.

“They scored eight threes and probably shot 60 percent from three in the first half,” Tucker said. “In the second half we did a much better job. They started getting away from that three, but I think our defense forced them to get away from the three. Our defense really stepped up.”

Fletcher scored 23 points in the second half as he found success getting to the hoop and drawing contact. The senior knocked down 12 of 15 free throws, with 12 attempts coming in the fourth quarter.

“We knew Ryan was going to have to have a big game coming in tonight,” said Tucker. “We knew that because when he has a big game we spark from him. The kids follow through from him. He starts crashing the boards; everyone else wants to crash the boards. He starts driving to the bucket; everyone else wants to drive to the bucket.

“He’s a true leader, and we had a lot of leaders out there tonight. It was a lot of players that allowed him to get those points. He did a lot. He executed the offense, he got to the bucket, and he did exactly what he was supposed to do.”

Fletches was poised for his big night, even before the game started.

“I was really focused on the bus,” he said. “I was just in one of those modes where everything went in the basket. I just had a night. We felt the pressure in the second half. We didn’t want to go home and never play basketball again. I was able to step up and do what I needed to help the team.”

Brenton Colabella provided support with 11 points and six rebounds.

“It just came with the flow of the game,” Colabella said. “We were down at the half and I just came out in the second half focused. I wanted to do whatever I could to help the team. Made a couple free throws, grabbed a few boards. My job is just to help the team win.

“This feels great. Coach Tuck deserves it and this group of seniors deserves it. We’ve put in four years of hard work to get here, it was a team goal, and we accomplished it.”

Michael Barber added 10 points to join his cohorts in double figures.

The foul line was big for the Crusaders, shooting 25-for-34 compared to the Bishops’ 6-for10 effort. Central was able to create this advantage by consistently attacking the rim offensively as opposed to the Bishops who settled mostly for shots from the perimeter.

The Crusaders advance to the district semifinals where they face the Malvern-Caldwell winner Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Meadowbrook.