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Wheeling Park pulls away from Red Riders

WHEELING — Coming home off a demoralizing loss to West Virginia Class AAA power University in the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference Class 5A semifinals on Tuesday, it took Wheeling Park a quarter to get back to doing what it does best Friday night, getting the ball inside to seniors Alex Vargo and Travis Zimmerman.

After hitting just 4 of 14 attempts in the first quarter against visiting Weir High, Coach Michael Jebbia’s Patriots were 22 of 38 from the floor the rest of the way, with Vargo and Zimmerman combining to finish 18 of 21 over the final three frames.

Vargo knocked down a game-high 28 points while Zimmerman chipped in with 16 and Park used a 13-0 second quarter run to take control as the Patriots cruised to a 63-41 victory over the Red Riders in an OVAC consolation game at the Palace on the hill.

The victory moves Jebbia’s squad to 13-5 with a game against a hot Oak Glen squad coming up Tuesday while Coach Mike Granato’s Weir team drops to 10-8 and has John Marshall and East Fairmont coming up.

While Wheeling Park never trailed after taking the lead early in the second quarter it was Weir that never trailed over the initial eight minutes of play. Senior Elijah Gillette, who finished with a team-high 19 points, hit a triple to get the visitors started in the first minute and scored 12 of the Riders’ first 14 points as they led 14-10 at the end of a period.

Weir had a whopping 13-4 edge off the glass in the first quarter while holding Vargo and Zimmerman to a 1 of 6 showing from the floor for just two points. However, the Red Riders did commit eight turnovers during that time, many of those unforced errors.

A Beau Heller three for the Patriots to begin the second was followed by an Anthony Cross basket that made it 16-13 before the hosts caught fire. A Vargo put-back began a 13-0 blitz followed by a trio of Zimmerman hoops and a steal-and-slam and pair of charity tosses from Vargo that made it a 26-16 Park advantage.

With Vargo scoring 11 and Zimmerman eight in the second Wheeling Park went to the break with a 32-21 upperhand.

“We just didn’t come out fully ready to play to start the game,” Jebbia admitted. “But Weir also had a good game-plan to spread it out and run clock which kind of had us sleepwalking a little bit.

“And, while Gillette hurt us early on and we moved Travis (Zimmerman) over on him and then we started taking advantage of our size advantage.”

Vargo added 12 more points in the third period as the Patriots extended the lead to 17 at 51-34 heading to the final eight minutes. A 9-0 run conclude with the first five points of the fourth quarter with the biggest lead to that point at 56-34.

“We had a lot of guys step up (Friday),” Jebbia added. “Beau Heller, who is normally our sixth man, stepped up and started with (Shaheed) Jackson out six and really hustled and got us some big rebounds.

“D.J. Saunders had eight assists and Xavier Morris had six which comes from getting the ball inside to Alex and Travis. They had a 1-3 chaser on Alex early on, but we have worked on that all season and we ended up finally getting him some good looks.

“After starting slow we took all of the starters out for the final 1:11 of the first quarter and they were all ready to go when they got back on the court to start the second.”

Morris had a nice night with five points, seven rebounds and six assists as the Patriots grabbed a 30-25 edge off the glass, including 26-12 over the final three chapters, while turning the ball over 14 times, four fewer than their guests.

Senior Tanner Mikula backed Gillette with eight points for Weir.

“Their length and inside strength just got the best of us,” Granato admitted. “They were very tough for us to handle in there. I felt like we frustrated Vargo a little early on, but we knew coming in that he was very good, and Zimmerman only helps to make him better.

“I am very happy that we were able to make the final four in the OVAC and while I have been doing this for a long time and am not much to whine and complain, we played a couple of teams in Morgantown and Wheeling Park that have a big enrollment discrepancy over us.

“While I was concerned with the level of play coming into the week I really hope that in the long run playing these teams helps us improve and we are going to find that our over the next week and into the tournament.

“Obviously just getting here isn’t enough, we are trying to win these games, but I felt like our kids did a good job competing and hopefully we can build on that.”

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