Maroon Knights to play for title
CHARLESTON – Mel Stephens wasted little time getting to the point.
“What a difference a day makes,” the Wheeling Central coach said.
A day after being taken to the wire by No. 8 seed Parkersburg Catholic, the Maroon Knights did a complete 180-degree turn.
David Park, held to 11 points the night before, exploded for 13 in the first quarter, and Chase Harler added eight more as Central sprinted to an 11-point lead and never looked back in a 71-54 victory against Clay-Battelle in the West Virginia boy’ Class A state tournament semifinals.
Wheeling Central (24-3), which has won 16 straight, will face Charleston Catholic at 2 today in the state championship game.
“I had a feeling that we were going to play better, and that was the message we conveyed to the kids,” Stephens said. “I think when they saw that we believed it gave them confidence that they were going to play better. And that is exactly what happened.”
Park, especially, was hot out of the gate, getting a basket on a perfectly placed pass from Harler, and then hit three 3s to give the Maroon Knights a 15-5 lead just 4:30 into he game.
It really never got better for Clay-Battelle (21-6), which had won 13 straight itself and was undefeated when its regular starting five had played.
“We saw them in their last four or five games and the games had been low scoring,” Cee-Bees coach Josh Kisner said. “I thought that they would cool off after (the initial start) but they stuck right with it.”
Clay-Battelle did make a short run, getting it to seven, 27-20, but Boyd Bibey and Harler hit back-to-back 3s to make it a 13-point lead at the half.
The Cee-Bees finally harnessed Park and Harler, to a degree, in the third, but Bibey was a different story.
He hit three 3s in the third and then hit his fifth of the game to start the fourth as the lead ballooned to 26.
“Any time I see a team in the zone I get excited,” Bibey said. “I tend to get open a lot on the wing and David and Chase do a great job finding me in those situations.”
He finished with 18 points and went 5 of 10 from 3-point range.
Wheeling Central shot 48.9 percent from the field (22 of 45) and was 12 of 24 on 3s.
“When we get into a situation where a team is going to play zone, and we are hitting shots, we are hard to defend,” Stephens said. “Then you get Boyd in there and all of a sudden the lead balloons, it gives the other team the feeling that it’s going to be a long night.”
Clay-Battelle hit just 33.9 for the game, including 4 of 24 (16.9 percent) from 3.
“With that trio you know you have to stop two of them,” Kisner said. “In the first half I think Harler and Park had 13 each, so we were trying to slow them down and we kind of lost (Bibey).”
Park led Wheeling Central with 21 points and nine rebounds. Harler finished with 17, six assists and four rebounds.
“I thought we would play better,” Park said. “We wanted to come out and prove a point that we were a better team than we showed (Thursday).”
Now, Central will go for its first title since 2009 against a team it knows as all too well. The Maroon Knights defeated Charleston Catholic 64-52 in Wheeling earlier this season.
It will be Bill McClanahan’s final game as the Irish coach.
“We’re going to try to spoil Bill’s party,” Stephens said. “It seems like when we are both here we end up seeing each other. I have great respect for their program and we know it will be a fight.”
“We just have to execute,” Harler said. “We have to slow down their two top players (Garret McCarty and Nick George).”