Park, Creek in 5A chess match

Talk about a contrast in style. Saturday evening’s Wheeling Hospital/OVAC 5A showdown between Indian Creek and Wheeling Park is all that…and more.

It’s a supreme battle of wits between Michael Jebbia’s running, gunning, slam-dunking, three-time defending conference champion Patriots and Joe Dunlevy’s ‘our way or the highway’ Redskins, also known as the doctors of defense. In other words, time to circle the wagons.

“On paper, it’s probably a mismatch,” Dunlevy declared. “Park is so athletically gifted. We certainly can’t run with them. Hopefully, we can guard them a little and make things interesting.”

Countered Jebbia: “No doubt, we prefer an up and down game. If we can control tempo, that’s definitely to our advantage. We also realize Creek will play tough defense. Their track record proves it.”

Both teams were involved in lockdown semifinal encounters earlier this week. Fourth-seeded Park traveled to top seed Morgantown and returned with a prized 45-40 conquest.

Indian Creek, meanwhile, was imposing its will in a two/three seed matchup at Wintersville where Dunlevy’s quint stopped Parkersburg South’s Patriots, 43-38.

FOR Dunlevy, the 2011-12 season has been an emotionally-draining experience with the Redskins’ veteran pulling out all the stops during a masterful coaching performance.

A tragic mid-January auto accident left Creek’s program in disarray with the permanent loss of a key player uniting both Dunlevy’s team, the entire student body and member schools representing the Buckeye 8 Conference.

On top of that adversity, the Redskins’ roster suffered losses to starting personnel a result of illness and injuries. Through it all, Dunlevy managed to instill in his remaining players significant resolve and a continued desire to achieve.

“That’s not so surprising.” Jebbia exclaimed. “Coach Dunlevy is one of the very best in our business. There isn’t a more respected coach in the valley.”

So, how to prepare for a well-skilled 15-5 Pats’ combine and their impressive resume spanning a number of decades?

“One thing we can’t permit is Park to go on any type extended (offensive) run. If that happens, we’ll look like dogs chasing our tails,” Dunlevy described. “Michael’s team also proved the other night it can play solid defense when necessary.”

Creek takes the floor led by senior point guard Joe Bowers, a 5-10 handful for opponents and rounding into form after missing six games. “Joe’s our leader out there. It’s hard to measure his value to our team,” Dunlevy remarked. Bowers is a deceptive scorer, netting some 17 points per game. He doubles as an adept passer.

Another senior, 6-2 Dylan Hibbitts, has evolved from role player to prime time performer. Hibbitts contributes occasional offense and unsung work under the boards.

Two juniors at the forefront are 6-2 swingman Frank Kamarec and 6-1 space eater Shane Winland. Kamarec is netting 10 points a start while Winland consistently finds ways to make winning plays.

“Frankie’s a good shooter who’s come of age,” Dunlevy advised. “Shane was our middle linebacker in football and brings that mentality to the floor. At game’s end, he’s normally made a positive impact.”

Creek’s fifth starter is 5-9 sophomore Blake Roar . “He stepped up when Joe was sidelined and has made great strides,” Dunlevy described.

Prior to Saturday night’s tipoff, Dunlevy was hoping for good news regarding talented junior Alex Young, out of action a month due to a dislocated elbow. “Obviously, if Alex gets the green light, we’re a much better and more well-rounded team,” Dunlevy stressed. Before going down, the 6-2 Young was a major player at both ends, sporting norms of 10 (points) and 6 (rebounds).

Junior Matt Furda (6-1) is providing key minutes off the bench. Eleventh graders Drew Sullivan (6-4) and Dustin Rath (6-2) also aid the cause.

JEBBIA disclosed his team is primed going up against Creek for the big school trophy.

“Seems like we’ve been playing John Marshall (in this game), so facing Indian Creek is a new challenge and one I feel our guys are looking forward to,” Jebbia observed. “The last time we played Creek was 1998, so it’s definitely been a while.”

Park floors a formidable starting five led by 6-2 senior of distinction Boo Lathon, a career mover and shaker and quite possibly, the valley’s most complete player. Lathon certainly has his coach’s vote.

“No question, Boo’s a (West Virginia) player of the year candidate,” Jebbia reported. “His game is so steady end-to-end. At times, Boo has a knack for making it look easy.”

Lathon is knocking down 20 points per start and working equally hard on the glass where he’s inhaled over 200 rebounds.

Three-year starter Errin Baynes is another athletic marvel, confirmed recently by his commitment to Southern California on a track and field full ride to the left coast. The 6-2 Baynes backs Lathon at 13 ppg. and also is a reliable board banger.

Jebbia labels 6-4 senior Vondel Bell, “our top defensive player normally assigned to an opponent’s leading scorer.” Bell nets eight points per outing and has recorded a team-leading 44 steals.

Senior Emil Popicg served as a sixth man contributor a season ago before becoming a regular this winter. The 6-2 guard is Park’s team leader in trifecta connections and adds mental toughness to his resume.

One underclassman in the Patriots’ starting lineup is ever-improving sophomore Luke Saseen, making his presence felt on a nightly basis.

In Park’s recent victory over Logan, Saseen punished the Wildcats for 17 second half points. For an encore, he tallied 15 points and recorded seven steals in a road conquest of South Charleston.

“Luke’s a year-round hoopster who has a productive career in his future at Park,” Jebbia advised.

Off the bench, the Pats are enhanced by 6-4 senior Na’Kwaun Phillips, an inside closer as his 58 percent shooting percentage would indicate.

Wheeling Central transfer Lee Peluchette, at 6-3, was a welcome addition for his experience and steady court demeanor. Also in the mix is 5-9 junior guard Michael Thomas regarded as an effective defender.

Jebbia’s recent title-achieving teams have a penchant for playing well at Ohio University Eastern’s spacious facility.

“Our guys seem to enjoy playing (in this) atmosphere. Hopefully, that trend continues Saturday night,” he related.