Conotton, Donahue square off in 1A

Conotton Valley has never made an appearance in the Wheeling Hospital OVAC Boys’ Basketball Championships.

Bishop Donahue has been there twice, winning the title in 2009 before being runnerup a season later.

However, when the No. 2 seed Rockets (15-5) and top-seeded Bishops (12-7) do battle for the Class 1A championship Saturday at 8 p.m. inside Ohio University Eastern’s Health and Physical Education Center, only veteran Bishops’ head coach Tom Wise has ever experienced the tournament atmosphere.

“We don’t have any starters back from last season,” Wise allowed. “We’ve got three sophomores and two juniors that start, and my sixth man is a junior.

“We’re very young and this was very unexpected,” he said of reaching the title game. “But, this is a good group of kids and they work hard. This is a good reward for them.”

Fourth-year Conotton Valley head coach Mike Fierbaugh said the entire community of Bowerston and the surrounding area is pulling for the Rockets.

“It’s an exciting time for us,” Fierbaugh, who is in his second go-round as the Rockets’ court boss, said. “It’s a whole new experience for me and for the boys, but we’re looking forward to it.”

Fierbaugh said his team got a little taste of what the atmosphere will be like while attending last weeks girls’ championships, in which the Lady Rockets pocketed the 1A crown with a convincing victory over St. John Central.

“That puts a little pressure on us, I guess,” Fierbaugh added. “At this point though, the pressure’s on us to win. But it’s also on Bishop Donahue. Whoever handles the pressure better will win this game.”

The two squads haven’t played this season, but Conotton Valley did make the long trek to McMechen last season.

“We had a real battle with them down there last year,” Fierbaugh recalled. “I expect another one this year. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”

Meanwhile, Wise and his staff have had the chance to scout the opposition twice.

“I saw them play a couple of times earlier this year,” Wise said. “They play on a very small floor, and it’s huge to their advantage. They have a tremendous player in Brandon Bailey. We haven’t faced anyone like him in the post this year. They’ve also got some good outside shooters, and they’re 6-6 and 6-5 inside, so they’re going to present some matchup problems for us. We’re looking forward to it.”

Both teams play on home floors that are quite smaller than the spacious court at the St. Clairsville campus.

“I don’t think it will bother us much,” Fierbaugh noted. “We tend to play similar on whatever size court it is. I don’t think that will come into play.”

However, Wise has a differing view.

“I think it will take each team a few minutes to get adjusted to it,” he said in reference to the larger court size at OUE than both teams are accustomed to. “We like to play that up-tempo style of game, and I think on a bigger court it suits us better. We can get out and run.”

Fierbaugh said the key to his team’s success is the leadership of his eight seniors.

“Usually at a school our size, you have a couple of good players in each class, but we have seven seniors that are pretty decent players,” he added. “This is a special group and we’re pretty proud of them.”

Leading the Rockets is 4-year letterman Brandon Bailey, a 6-6 senior.

“Brandon has averaged over 20 points a game all four years,” Fierbaugh revealed. “He’s almost always had a double-double. He plays hard and we’re looking for him to finish his career in style.”

Although Bailey is the school’s all-time leading scorer by a huge margin, Fierbaugh said his star player wants to play college football as a tight end.

Other starters for the Rockets are 5-10 guard Taylor Bowdish, 5-11 point guard Keaton Carrothers, 6-5 forward Zach Lyon and 6-1 forward Brandon Galigher.

“Bowdish isn’t much of a scorer, but he’s a good leader and has a strong personality,” Fierbaugh said. “He also plays good defense. Carrothers is the leader of our team from his position and Lyon is a much improved defensive player. Galigher is our best defensive player.”

Coming off the bench are 6-1 forward Brandon “Curly” Robin and 6-1 forward Jay Vaughan. The remainder of the Rockets’ roster includes juniors Colton Cottis (5-10), Trey Yosick (5-11) and Alex Chilton (6-0), along with freshmen Dan Robinson (5-10) and Brandon McCreary (5-9).

Conotton Valley ousted No. 3 Paden City in the semifinals Tuesday.

Bishop Donahue is paced by junior guard Bryce Jones who averages about 17 points per game. Sophomore point guard Jesse Padlow had 10 assists in the semifinals, while sophomore forward Josh Miller is a double-double guy. Chaice Truax, a 6-4 10th grader, and either Lavonte Hampton, a 6-1 junior, or 6-1 junior Jared Yates round out the starting five.

Completing the Bishops roster are seniors Saquan Hill (5-10) and Nick Fallova (6-0); juniors Hunter Kaschke (6-0) and Lane Lemasters (6-1); and sophomores Brett Moore (5-9) and Matt Vucelik (6-0).

Bishop Donahue knocked off Beallsville in the semifinals.

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