Wheeling Central bounced by Crusaders

CHARLESTON — Any coach will tell you, when you get to Charleston for the state tournament, seeds are just numbers. Every team that makes it to this point is a good team.

Parkersburg Catholic is doing its best to prove that notion. Despite being seeded No. 6, the Crusaders opened the tournament with a victory against No. 3 Notre Dame.

Friday at the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center, they did it again.

Wheeling Central (21-5) was the latest top seed to fall, seeing its quest for back-to-back state championships end with a 61-50 loss.

“If you look at our schedule, we play Notre Dame twice, Webster County, Wheeling Central, Williamstown three times, Charleston Catholic, our schedule has prepared us for the past two days,” Parkersburg Catholic coach Rob Strcula said. “In some ways, seeding doesn’t matter. What we have gone through in the regular season is why a No. 6 seed can get here.

“I tell them every year that we are going to play a tough schedule and they are going to find out how good they really are. That is paying dividends right now.”

That is really easy to do when you have someone the caliber of Cade Ullman on your team.

The electric senior was at it again, leading the way with 27 points.

In the fourth quarter, when Wheeling Central made a run, it was Ullman that came up with a big basket or key free throws to stop the Maroon Knights’ momentum.

Ullman, who’s only mistakes of the day were three charging fouls, was stellar.

When Ryan Reasbeck hit a floater with 2:40 remaining to bring Central within 54-50, it was Ullman that responded.

He drove down the lane, stopped on a dime and calmly hit a jumper that rolled in.

After two missed 3-pointers by Wheeling Central, Ullman attempted to dribble out the clock. The Maroon Knights had to foul and Ullman made them pay.

He went 5 of 6 from the free-throw line down the stretch to seal a victory for the Crusaders (19-7).

“Ton of credit to Parkersburg Catholic. They came out and played a great game,” Wheeling Central coach Mel Stephens said. “We probably didn’t play our best and I think that is because of them.

“The Ullman kid is a handful and Jeb Boice played really well, too. They played well and we didn’t and that is the way things go sometimes.

“Boice and Ullman drive the ball really hard and we had a tough time getting them in front of us. When we did rotate to help, we had a tough time getting down there and they made good plays. We had trouble with that the other day against Williamstown and that was a concern going in. And that proved to be a deciding factor.”

Parkersburg Catholic was clicking from the outset, with Wheeling Central’s Bray Price doing everything he could to help the struggling Maroon Knights offense, hitting three 3s in the first half.

In the fourth quarter, it was Jalen Creighton that provided the Maroon Knights offense.

He scored 11 points in the stanza, including three 3-pointers.

With the score at 46-35 in favor of the Crusaders, Wheeling Central went on a 7-0 run, capped by a 3-pointer from Reasback that rattled around and in to cut it to 46-42.

Parkersburg Catholic answered by scoring the next five points.

Unfortunately for the Maroon Knights, senior Anthony Robbins went to the bench with his fifth foul midway through the fourth quarter and Ullman’s two free throws helped stretch the lead back to 54-45.

Creighton had another big 3 and Parkersburg Catholic turned the ball over on three straight possessions to give Wheeling Central life, but Ullman’s big plays down the stretch showed why he is one of the top players in the state.

Parkersburg Catholic bottled up the middle all game and forced Wheeling Central into shooting from the outside 26 times. The Maroon Knights made 10.

“They were doing a good job keeping the ball out of the interior,” Stephens said. “We have kids that can shoot it, I don’t mind shooting it from out there, but I would much prefer going inside and establishing something in there first. That opens up the outside a little bit. We made some 3s and made a decent run, but we just couldn’t guard them on the other end.”

Wheeling Central was outscored in the paint, 28-8.

And while Ullman was the star of the show, he wasn’t the only thorn in Wheeling Central’s side.

Boice netted 18 points on 7 of 11 shooting, often taking advantage of the attention displayed toward Ullman.

“We thought Cade was going to get his and we wanted to hold everyone else down,” Stephens said. “He was kind of the wild card kid and I think they had 30 at halftime and those guys had 27.”

Creighton paced Wheeling Central with 16 points, while Price netted 13.

Parkersburg Catholic will play in its first state title game since winning the title in 2010. The Crusaders will look to achieve the rare feat of beating all three top seeds in a single tournament when they play No. 1 and undefeated Webster County, which defeated Trinity, 45-42.