Wheeling Central tops Bellaire for 3A title

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Championships are, many times, earned down the stretch of games, with little things here or there making a difference.

That’s what happened Saturday afternoon inside Ohio University Eastern’s Health and Physical Education Center as Wheeling Central claimed its third OVAC crown in four years by holding off Bellaire, 71-62, in the Wheeling Hospital OVAC Girls’ 3A title tilt.

Kaylee Reinbeau scored 21 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, earning game Most Valuable Player honors, as the Maroon Knights held off a late Big Reds rally to move to 18-2 and down the Big Reds for the second time this season. The two teams met previously in Bellaire.

“It feels really good,” Wheeling Central head coach Penn Kurtz said. “We knew coming back against this team wouldn’t be easy.”

The Maroon Knights led for most of the contest, but couldn’t quite shake the Big Reds, who hung around trailing by single digits most of the afternoon. After failing to mount a serious run in the second half, Bellaire (19-3) finally got close late in the third.

Down 11 early in the period, Katrina Davis got hot, scoring eight of her team-high 21 points as Bellaire got to within nine, 50-41, with a little more than a minute left in the third.

De’Asia Burney hit a jumper and Natalie Stoner followed with a layup as the Big Reds closed to within six. Davis scored off a steal to make it a 51-47 game as the third quarter ended.

But, like they’d done all game, every time it looked as though the Big Reds were going to rally, the Maroon Knights had an answer.

Taylor Duplaga hit a pair of free throws pushing the lead back to six, 53-47. Moments later, Reinbeau made two from the charity stripe herself, both resulting from a steal at the other end, making the score 57-48.

“We made our free throws down the stretch and that was a huge difference,” Kurtz said.

That’s true. But the Maroon Knights were proficient all day in that regard, finishing 25 of 27.

“Against a team like Wheeling Central you can’t put yourself in a hole like down 11 at halftime,” Bellaire head coach John Farrier said. “I thought we played with a lot more energy in the second half. I think we were a lot more tentative in the first half.

“The energy in the second half allowed us to climb back. I thought we might be OK. We got it down to four or five and they were kind of in foul trouble. But we’d make one mistake and they’d capitalize on it.”

Stoner’s jumper late in the first quarter gave the Big Reds a 14-13 lead. From there, the Maroon Knights went on a 6-0 run, capped by a Hannah White layup off a steal. She finished with a team-high 24 points.

From there. Bellaire was in catch-up mode. Farrier said Wheeling Central’s defense created problems for his offense in the early going.

“They created some pressure that led to turnovers and easy buckets,” he said. “That allowed the gap to widen.”

In the second half, Kurtz said Bellaire turned the tables.

“They sped us up and got us going up and down the floor, which is not what we wanted to do and forced us into taking some not so great shots.

“They’re relentless and they’re never going to stop.”

In the end, though, Kurtz said his team relaxed and got back to what it does best, led by Reinbeau.

“She’s a difference maker out there for us,” he said. “She’s the tallest person out there on the floor and can handle the ball, too. She played great.”

Stoner finished with 13 for the Big Reds, while Maci Crozier added 10.

“I’m proud of the girls,” Farrier said. “They gave everything they had. They went down swinging.”