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Wheeling Central downs No. 2 Williamstown in double overtime

Photo by Nick Henthorn Wheeling Central’s Quinton Burlenski shoots a fadeaway jump shot from around the free throw line during the Maroon Knights’ double overtime victory over Williamstown, 71-65.

WHEELING — Going into halftime Thursday, it looked like Wheeling Central, ranked No. 3 in the most recent W.Va. Class AA AP poll, could be well on their way to a commanding victory against No. 2 Williamstown, leading by as many as eight in the second quarter and entering the locker rooms ahead by five, 33-28.

A victory it was, but the Knights came perilously close to losing control of the wheel along the way.

In a pulse-pounding double-overtime matchup between top teams in Class AA, Wheeling Central secured a 71-65 victory over the Williamstown Yellowjackets.

“We put a lot of focus into this one,” Wheeling Central head coach Mel Stephens said. “I thought for both teams, if you’re fortunate enough to make it to Charleston, this game should hold some weight as far as seeding. With a win over Charleston Catholic, with a win over these guys, it definitely helps our resume if we’re fortunate enough to get down there.”

After going on a 7-2 run to start the third quarter– headlined by a poster dunk in transition by Max Olejasz, who scored a team-high 20 points Thursday– the Knights led 40-30, but things took a downward turn for Central from that point forward in the third. Wheeling Central went cold from outside, and were susceptible to offensive rebounds by the Yellowjackets. After building a rebounding advantage through the first half, Williamstown usurped Central in the edge on the glass by the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, and finished with 28 team rebounds to the Knights’ 26.

Jayden Bryant scored 10 points in the third quarter to lead the charge for Williamstown to take a 46-44 lead late in the frame, their first lead since the early-goings in the first.

The two teams were tied 46-46 at the end of the third.

Central struggled to regain their first-half form on offense in the fourth quarter too, but a gritty defensive effort kept things close, though Williamstown was ahead by between two and four points throughout much of the fourth.

In a period where points were at a premium, Wheeling Central’s Quinton Burlenski knocked down two free throws after a technical foul against Williamstown following a tough lay-in by the Yellowjackets’ Cruz Isaly.

The two freebies took Central within two, 54-52, with 3:30 to play.

The score was knotted 57-57 with 2:00 to play after Bryant and Olejasz– who most often plays in the paint for Central– traded 3-pointers.

Williamstown possessed the ball for the final 1:30 of the fourth, but their final shot was off, and the game headed to overtime.

Two buckets on their first two possessions allowed the Yellowjackets to snatch a four-point lead, 61-57, and put the visitors in the drivers seat in the four-minute overtime.

Needing a big play, the Knights got just what the doctor ordered from senior Eli Dean– a four-point-play miracle cure on a corner 3-pointer with 45 seconds left in OT.

Dean scored nine points Thursday, but knocked down the two biggest shots of the game; his game-tying four-point play in the first overtime, and one that was yet to come in the second overtime.

The Knights had the ball last in the first overtime, tied 61-61, but their shot came after the buzzer and the clock was reset for another four minutes.

Nearly three minutes went by without a score, until Dean caught a pass in that same corner that he evidently felt comfortable in. Another clutch jumper found the bottom, and Wheeling Central led 64-61 with 1:15 to play.

“He’s our offensive spark,” Stephens said. If we need a bucket we feel pretty good about getting him into the game, even coming off the bench cold. The kid can flat-out shoot it. We’ve got a lot of confidence in him. He did a great job of finding the open space and we did a good job of finding him.”

The final minute-plus was stretched out by intentional fouls against the Knights. Burlenski, Jeremy Ratcliffe and Troy Anthony combined to go 7-10 from the line over that span to seal the 71-65 win.

“I thought there in the third quarter we had some bad possessions on both ends,” Stephens said. “Gave up some offensive rebounds, gave them extra chances, didn’t get great shots on the offensive end. Once we were fortunate enough to survive regulation and get into overtime, I told them ‘Now it’s a four-minute game, we’ve got to win for four minutes.’ It took us an extra four minutes, but the kids battled through and we were able to make the plays down the stretch when we really needed to.”

Behind Olejasz’ 20, Burlenski and Ratcliffe each scored 13, while Anthony scored 12. Isaac Schmitt scored four.

For Williamstown, Bryant put through 29 points to lead all scorers, Parker Schramm scored 14 and Isaly scored 10.

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