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OVAC Boys Basketball: Shadyside, Wheeling Central to clash for the third time

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Neither Shadyside’s Ed Andes nor Wheeling Central’s Mel Stephens had to spend a lot of time this week seeking information on the other’s team.

To say that Shadyside and Wheeling Central know each other quite well might still be selling them short.

After all, the Tigers and Maroon Knights have played twice annually for the last several years, including this season. As has happened in the past, just a couple of years ago to be exact, Shadyside and Central will clash for a third time with a lot on the line.

The small-school heavyweights will vie for the OVAC Class 2A title this afternoon at 4 in the fourth of five games at the annual Wheeling Hospital OVAC Boys Basketball Championships.

“It seems like they’re in this game every year,” Andes said of the Maroon Knights, who are seeking their eighth conference title in a row and 10th on the court at Ohio University Eastern’s Health and Physical Education Center.

Shadyside hasn’t been there as regularly. The Tigers have claimed two crowns (2008 and 2010) in the current format, but they’ve played in an additional championship and actually lost to the Maroon Knights.

For the Maroon Knights to reach this game, it took a come-from-behind effort in Tuesday’s semifinal against Clay-Battelle. Central found itself down by double figures in the second half, but got the lead on an Avery Lee bucket with just under four seconds to play and closed out a thrilling 87-85 victory.

“Give Clay-Battelle credit, they came in and shot the ball very well,” Stephens said. “We just kept plugging away. We were able to scramble, get a few stops and rebounds when we really needed them and scored some points at the line with clock stopped, which helped, too.”

Shadyside, meanwhile, had no walk to the title game in its own right. The Tigers built a double-figure lead on Southern Local, but then found themselves in a battle to the final horn before posting a 65-63 victory to improve to 16-5 on the season.

“That was a good game for us,” Andes said of his team’s semifinal with Southern. “Southern played really hard and never quit. We’d get up, but they just kept coming back. We were able to stay ahead at the end, which is what we were ultimately trying to do.”

The reward for both teams is the third meeting with one another. Central has won the prior two. It claimed an 81-75 victory in Belmont County on Dec. 17 and then a 75-58 victory on Jan. 14.

So, will the adage that it’s tough to beat a team three times in a season come to fruition?

“It’s tough to beat a team once,” Stephens said. “Shadyside has some weapons and we’ll really have to focus and play well on defense. We played pretty well in the last meeting, but now it’s a neutral court. We’ll have to do our best defensively and try to hold their guys down.”

Andes is certainly hopeful that the aforementioned adage proves to be true for his club, but he also knows it’ll boil down to more than just a cliche.

“We just have to go and play the game and not really worry about the other games,” Andes confessed. “We know them and they know us.We’re just excited to have the opportunity to play in this game. It’s a challenge we’re looking forward to.”

Since the earlier meetings, a few of the faces have actually changed. Central will be without Clayton Abate due to injury. When he suffered his injury, he was averaging 12 points and 10 rebounds.

“They don’t have the (size) inside that they used to, so it’s more of a five out or four out and one in approach,” Andes said. “It’s a different look. We’ll still have to defend all five spots well because they have scoring punch at each spot.”

The Maroon Knights still feature one of the area’s premier one-two combinations in sophomore Ryan Reasbeck and junior J.C. Maxwell.

Lee, who had a 31-point outburst against the CeeBees earlier this week, is a steady contributor on both ends at the point guard spot. Jalen Creighton is another to keep an eye on for the Maroon Knights.

With Abate out of the lineup, it’s meant extended minutes for sophomore Michael Toepfer. Vinnie High has also developed into a solid contributor off the bench.

“We want to be as balanced as possible,” Stephens said. “Avery has really picked it up the last few games, and we think Jalen is due to break out. We’d like to get four guys in double figures every night.”

Shadyside, meanwhile, has the ability to score the ball in bunches quickly.

Senior Kelly Hendershot, who poured in 26 against Southern, just became the school’s all-time leading male scorer with 1,381 points.

“Kelly is a tremendous player, who can score inside and outside,” Stephens said. “He’s definitely where our focus has to start.”

Hendershot isn’t alone. Sophomore Korey Beckett has been impressive, averaging better than 15 points a game and leading the team in 3-point shooting. Senior Tyler Parr has been a solid addition to the lineup and actually had two of his best games of the season against the Knights earlier.

The Tigers’ starting lineup also includes sophomores Bryce Amos and Mason Vannest, who is a pass-first point guard. Amos has had some big games as a scorer and is also one of the Tigers’ best rebounders.

“We’re going to need (production from) everyone,” Andes said. “We’ll need as much offense as we can get and a lot of help on the defensive end.”

Shadyside utilizes juniors Jordan Joseph and Jacob Visnic off the bench as well as Alec Shepherd.

“We know this is going to be a battle, but our kids realize what’s on the line,” Stephens said. “Being in this game is one of the goals we set at the beginning of the year.”

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