OVAC Boys Basketball: Frontier, Madonna feel prepared for 1A clash
• Cougars have never won a title in current format; Dons last won in ’17
ST. CLAIRSVILLE — In many ways, Frontier and Madonna are mirror images of each other.
The Cougars and Blue Dons, who meet this afternoon at 2 for the 1A crown at the Wheeling Hospital OVAC Boys Basketball Championships, have endured many ups and downs to reach this pinnacle.
But while the road may have been bumpy at times, both head coaches — Frontier’s Roger Kirkpatrick and Madonna’s George Vargo — believe their teams’ obstacles have prepared them for this moment.
“This has been one of goals, to get to (Ohio University Eastern),” Kirkpatrick said. “I told the kids that, with the schedule we play, we’d get a higher seed because of that.
“We had a little taste of it last year and got beat (in the semifinals). I told them (Tuesday night) at halftime that we didn’t work hard in the summer not to make it. It means a lot to the kids.”
The Blue Dons are back in the tournament for the first time in two years. George Vargo is also back on Madonna’s bench after a short hiatus.
“I’m very satisfied with the way the season is going and very satisfied with the way the kids are responding with me coming back,” he said. “I’m happy to be coaching again, and I’m excited to have the team back in the OVAC championship.”
The third-seed Blue Dons secured a spot at OUE’s Physical Education and Recreation Center via a 63-57 victory at Hundred on Tuesday. After besting the Hornets by 28 at home in early January, Madonna’s long trek to Wetzel County resulted in a more challenging contest.
“That’s probably the best Hundred team I’ve seen in my years of coaching,” Vargo said.
Despite a subpar night at the foul line late, Madonna got the job done and improved to 9-8, snapping a three-game slide.
“The kids hung in there and played hard,” Vargo said. “It was a great game. I was just glad to be on the winning end.”
Frontier, the class’ top seed, advanced with a 54-47 triumph against Cameron in Beaverton. The victory improved the Cougars to 13-7 and has the Washington County school on the verge of its first OVAC title since 2004, and the first under the current tourney format.
“We played Caldwell last Saturday and I thought we played extremely well,” Kirkpatrick said. “We came out a little flat against Cameron, but (Logan) Brookover, (Kyle) Daugherty, and Tanner (Bills) played really well in the second half.”
Those three, along with Colby Curtis and Breckin Hoff have cemented Frontier’s lineup most of the season. Brookover and Daugherty, though, have been the Cougars’ lynchpins.
“Logan is a 4-year starter who averages about 22 points and 12 rebounds a game, while Kyle is about 15 (ppg) and 13 (rpg),” Kirkpatrick said. ‘They’ve been with me for four years and they’ve progressed tremendously. When they’re both playing well, we’re pretty good.”
They also provide solid leadership.
“They know what to expect, and they’re good and demonstrating that,” Kirkpatrick said.
Curtis is also a senior, while Hoff and Bills are a junior and sophomore, respectively. Jacob Gutberlet can also see time.
One of the biggest challenges for Frontier this winter has been its schedule. Playing a schedule filled with former PVC foes, the Cougars have held their own with most of them, including Fort Frye and Shadyside, also playing for titles today on the OUE floor.
“We’ve only had one or two ‘cupcake’ teams on our schedule,” Kirkpatrick said, noting a pair of close losses to Fort Frye.
“Hopefully, those games have made us better and will help us we move down the road and into the tournament.”
Kirkpatrick marveled at Madonna’s schedule, which has also included some tough foes.
“I think George is a good coach,” he said. “They’ve had an up and down season, too. We have a lot of respect for them. We think it’ll be a good game. We need to defend, rebound and limit our turnovers.”
The Blue Dons started the season winning six of their first seven, with a two-point loss at home to Weir the only blemish on the slate. A nine-point loss to the Red Riders midway through the campaign triggered a slide that saw Madonna drop seven of nine before Tuesday’s semifinal victory.
That’s why we play a challenging schedule, to be ready for things like Saturday,” Vargo said. “The kids are playing good basketball. They’ve bought back into my system and I’m happy for that. They’re great kids and I think it will be a good game.”
The Blue Dons are led by a pair of seniors in Evan Boniti (14 ppg) and Brennen Secrist (18 ppg). But, for the most part, Madonna’s roster is comprised of youngsters, mainly sophomores.
“We have a lot of them, and that’s a positive moving forward,” Vargo said, noting he hopes to get between 15 and 20 points a game from the class.
The sophomores making an impact include starters Santino Arlia and Matt Amaismeier. Junior Lucky Pulice (15 ppg) has also fashioned a fine campaign.
Vargo said sophomores Peyton Moore and Evan Bone, and junior Anthony Sessi will likely see time off the bench.
“The OVACs is a good jumpstart in getting ready for our sectional,” Vargo said. “Hopefully, our young guys can do well.”
Kirkpatrick expects nothing but a challenge from the Blue Dons.
“They have speed, height; it will be a challenge,” he said.