Big Red on wrong end of thriller

DRIBBLING — Steubenville’s Ryan Rauch sets up a play against Wheeling Park on Tuesday. (Photo by Josh Strope)

WHEELING — Coaches say all the time to be ready when one’s number is called.

For Wheeling Park’s Dustin VanSickle, this couldn’t have been more true.

Despite only playing the final four minutes Tuesday night against Steubenville, it was VanSickle who may have made the biggest impact. The sophomore center was a perfect 3 for 3, including the game-winner with 1.4 seconds on the clock, to give Wheeling Park a dramatic 71-69 victory against Big Red at the Palace on the Hill.

“Thank God I woke up there and put him in,” Wheeling Park coach Michael Jebbia said with a laugh. “My biggest thing was if he could go in and mix up the middle, maybe get an offensive rebound. It was more for a defensive purpose, but he is so big at 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds. He is so wide in there.

“Every game is a different game and a different situation. I think Steubenville wore us down with their depth. We were down a man without Jack (Stakem), but thank goodness Dustin went in there and played his tail off and saved the day.”

Saved the day might be an understatement.

With the score tied at 69-69 and Wheeling Park (5-2) with possession, Jebbia put the ball in the hands of junior standout Alex Vargo.

Holding for one shot, Vargo drove to the basket. The Patriots’ most dangerous scorer, Vargo was shut out in the first quarter but came on strong with a game-high 26 points.

But, his biggest play of the day was an assist. Two Big Red defenders challenged Vargo on his way to the basket, and instead of forcing a shot against the double team, he dished off to VanSickle, who was waiting under the basket for an easy layup.

“With foul trouble, you never know when you are needed,” Jebbia said. “Vargo actually made a mistake with 50 seconds remaining with a bad shot. We were able to get the ball back, and we came back down with our flat play. He makes the right play. They double him, and Dustin is open.

“We wanted Vargo to get to the hole, maybe get fouled or hand off to Keondre (King) and drive there. But, the help came from Dustin’s man, and he dumped it there. It wasn’t the best angle, either.”

Steubenville entered the game leading the OVAC Class 5A standings with an impressive 9-1 record. However, it was Wheeling Park that looked like the top dogs, closing out the first half on a 12-2 run for a 16-point halftime advantage.

Vargo was fouled as time expired and made both free throws to enter the locker room with a 36-20 lead. That lead ballooned to 21 points (49-28) midway through the third, and what was supposed to be a battle between two top OVAC teams had the makings of turning into a laugher.

Instead, Steubenville had other ideas and showed why it won’t be an easy out for any team come tournament time. Big Red charged back to tie it midway through the fourth.

With less than five minutes remaining, Josh Zimmerman connected on two free throws to make it 60-60. On the next Big Red possession, Ryan Rauch’s bank jumper gave Steubenville its first lead since 6-5.

The teams traded baskets the rest of the way. King and De’Vaughn McWhorter — who followed a rough outing at the Cancer Research Classic with a solid game Tuesday with 19 points — missed shots, allowing VanSickle to get a rebound, make the basket while getting fouled and the ensuing foul shot to put Park in front, 65-62.

Jordan Wallace answered to bring the score even again. Steubenville took its final lead on a Zimmerman basket on the next trip down the court, but it was VanSickle with another basket to tie it.

Vargo and Big Red’s Jorian Jones traded baskets to make it 69-69 with less than a minute to go. Vargo pulled up for a 3, but airballed it.

Steubenville came up short trying to take the lead, as Zimmerman’s jumper didn’t connect. The rebound turned into a held ball with the possession arrow in favor of Wheeling Park, setting up VanSickle’s heroics.

Steubenville got a good final look for a game-winning 3-pointer, but Zimmerman’s half-court shot was wide.

“It was tough, and we played well in the first quarter, went to a zone and had them confused,” Steubenville coach Mike Haney said. “We didn’t do well rebounding, and they got a lot of second-chance shots. Second half we went to man, picked up the pressure more and it worked well. We were getting stops and rebounds and chipped away.

“We got the shots we wanted. We called a timeout, ran a play, ran it to perfection and the shot didn’t fall, and that happens. At the end, we ran a play, ran it right, got a good look and missed it. (VanSickle) only played the last three minutes, but he had seven and he hurt us. But, if we play like this with this intensity, we have a lot of good things going on, and we just have to get refocused. This was a good game for both teams.”

King chipped in with 15 points for the Patriots.

James Roundtree paced Big Red with 18 points, followed by Jones (12), Wallace (12) and Zimmerman (10).

Wheeling Park 71, Steubenville 69

Steubenville 10-10-23-26 — 69

Wheeling Park 16-20-18-17 — 71

STEUBENVILLE (9-2): Rauch 3-9 0-0 8; Jones 6-10 0-0 12; Bickerstaff 3-7 2-4 8; Zimmerman 4-17 2-2 10; Roundtree 8-12 2-2 18; Wallace 4-13 4-4 12; Biasi 0-1 0-0 0; Bracone 0-0 0-0 0; Jones 0-0 0-0 0; Clevenger 0-0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 28, 10-12: 69.

WHEELLING PARK (5-2): Dunlevy 1-3 0-0 2; McWhorter 6-11 7-9 19; King 4-13 4-4 15; Vargo 9-19 6-6 26; Goddard 1-1 0-0 2; Morris 0-0 0-0 0; VanSickle 3-3 1-1 7. TOTALS: 24, 17-19: 71.

3-POINT GOALS: Rauch 2; King 3, Vargo 2.