It’s a battle of Centrals in Class 2A

It’ll be a Saturday morning holy war at the OUE’s Health and Physical Education Center.

And neither Steubenville Central nor Wheeling Central can wait for their chance at the OVAC title.

The small-school heavyweights will clash in the Class 2A title game in the lidlifter at 10.

For the Crusaders, it’ll be their first trip to the conference title game. As excited as the Crusaders are about the chance, they’re not about to just rest on their laurels.

“The semifinal win was a really, really good pride win for our program,” Tucker said. “Getting to the OVAC title game is one of our goals every season. We fell short last year and our guys talked about that and worked hard for this opportunity all summer. We’re not happy with where we’re at right now because we know what’s in front of us, but I think we’re ready for the OVAC and sectional run.”

The Crusaders (15-5) had no trouble in dispatching fourth-seeded Cameron during the semifinals. After shooting 53 percent from the floor, SCC cruised to a 81-42 victory.

“Our guys are really, really excited about the chance to play against Wheeling Central again,” Tucker said. “

Wheeling Central, meanwhile, is making its third appearance in the title game, but first since 2009. The Maroon Knights have won the crown in both trips, toppling St. Clairsville for the 3A title in 2008 and Fort Frye in 2009.

“It’s certainly nice to be back (in the finals),” said Wheeling Central head coach Mel Stephens. “It’s been a few years for us.”

Steubenville Central found itself in the top four basically all season, but the Knights waited with bated breath for their fate. They found themselves in basically a defacto play-in game some 10 days ago at Shadyside.

“I thought, even with teams not playing, we had to look at that Shadyside game as a win or stay home kind of thing,” said Stephens. “I don’t know if we had lost that night at Shadyside if we would have had enough points or not, but we didn’t want to take that chance.”

The Knights are the only team in this weekend’s title game field with a sub .500 record as they sit at 10-11 for the season. They’ve actually caught fire since losing in the Cancer Research Classic during the first weeken of 2013.

“It’s weird because a lot of the games at the beginning of our season we were mostly playing at home, but we didn’t do real well,” Stephens said. “For whatever reason, we went on the road and started playing better, but that works out well for us now because we’re basically on the road the rest of the way.”

Central won and earned the third seed and a trip to Clay-Battelle. It defeated the Cee-Bees, 72-60 during Tuesday’s semifinal.

This will be the second meeting between the Crusaders and Knights. They tangled in the middle of January in Steubenville with Wheeling Central prevailing by a 59-42 count, but both coaches agreed that score is a bit misleading.

“We were without two of our starters, Zach Herrington and Michael Carapelotti, who are our senior leaders,” Tucker said. “We had some guys step up, but we obviously felt the loss of those two players.”

The Knights shot out to an 11-point lead at halftime and didn’t slow down in that game as go-to-players frosh Chase Harler and junior David Park carried the load as they’ve done most of the season.

“Those two starters definitely make a big difference, so we know how big of a test this is going to be for us on Saturday,” Stephens said. “They’re very well coached with tough kids, who do what they’re supposed to do. I think it’s going to be a good battle.”

Along with Herrington and Carapelotti, the Crusaders turn to junior Ryan Fletcher (6-1), junior Matt Martello (6-0) and junior Michael Barber (5-9) serves as the point guard.

Fletcher is the Crusaders’ leading scorer at 15.8 points a game. Herrington is next in line at 14.5 points a game. Barber, who Tucker calls “a true point guard,” nets 10.4 points a game. Martello checks in at 6 points a game.

Junior Brenton Colabella (6-3) is one of the top athletes on the team and comes off the bench. Actually, Tucker considers him a starter, too.

Other top subs in the rotation are Aleks Porreca (6-0) and Michael Manfresca (6-1).

“We’ve had some games where we’ve not been consistent,” Tucker said. “We’re going to need that on Saturday.”

The Crusaders’ offense has been impressive because it scores the basketball so well. For the season, Steubenville Central is knocking down 58 percent of its action shots and 40.4 percent of its shots from 3-point land.

Central is led by its dynamic backcourt duo of Harler, who is arguably the best frosh in the Ohio Valley, and Park, who is one of the most versatile scorers in the area. Both average just over 17 points a game.

“Harler is a fantastic freshman,” Tucker said. “I think he’s one of the best freshman in the valley that I’ve seen. He plays extremely hard, he’s very, very talented and then you have Park. He’s a good shooter, makes good decisions and does good things with the ball.”

Senior guard Justin Hammers has shown signs of being able to score in bunches.

On the interior, the Knights turn to senior Brandon Wallace (6-4), junior Alonzo Manns (6-2) and senior Chance Siebieda (6-2).

“I think people forget about some of their post players,” Tucker said. “I think Wallace is their best defensive player. I’ve just got a lot of respect for Mel and what he does with that program year in and year out. I really think it’s going to be a fantastic game.”

Staskey can be reached at