Wellsville, Madonna vie for 1A title

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Experience will meet experience this morning when Wellsville and Madonna tangle for the Class 1A boys’ basketball championship.

Nine senior starters will grace the court when action tips at 10 a.m. for the first of five title tilts in the annual Wheeling Hospital OVAC Boys’ Basketball Championships at Ohio University Eastern’s Health and Physical Education Center.

Both the Blue Dons (14-7) and Tigers (18-2) have redemption on their minds. Madonna has lost back-to-back championship games since winning crowns in 2011 and 12, while Wellsville hopes to atone for its loss to Wheeling Central in the 2014 Class 2A title game.

While avenging any sort of losses isn’t on the top of any wish lists, Madonna head coach Chris Blair is pretty sure his players, especially his seniors would like to go out with an OVAC championship in tow.

”Every year has its challenges and you set forth your goals,” he said. ”We know we were able to make it the last two years and fell short, so I’m sure that, in their minds, they wanted to compete and play for a championship. We’re hoping the outcome this time is a little bit different.

”This is a goal of ours every year. We’re excited to be back.”

Veteran Wellsville head coach David Thompson, too, is excited to be back.

”The kids are playing well,” he said.

The Tigers have two losses — McDonald (19-1) the top-ranked team in Ohio Division IV, and Western Reserve.

”It’s good competition up here,” Thompson said.

Madonna, too, has played a rugged slate. Thompson is quite aware of that and what the Blue Dons bring to the table.

”We’ve seen them in the summer,” he said. ”They have a good, scrappy team and they are well-coached. I remember when he played.”

The Blue Dons are an image of their coach, and have been playing like it since he arrived on the bench. This season, it’s been more of the same for Madonna, and that showed Tuesday night in their 69-60 semifinal victory against Bishop Donahue.

”That was the third time we played them,” Blair said. ”We know them pretty well.

”There were really good players on both sides of the ball and I felt our defense and our defensive intensity was the difference. Our guys were able to handle it and we found our guys open on the blocks late in the game.

”Both teams played really hard and we’re excited to be moving on to the finals.”

The Blue Dons boast a pair of 1,000-point scorers in their starting lineup — seniors Joey Ewusiak (6-1) and Tavon Jeter (6-1). Ewusiak is averaging 20 points and nine boards per game, while Jeter is averaging 9 points and nearly eight caroms per outing.

Chase DiBartolomeo (5-10), another senior, is Madonna’s point guard, while senior Jimmy Mazzone (5-11) is the shooting guard. Dustin Brown (6-0), also a senior, serves as a power forward.

”This a close-knit group that’s played together for a long time,” Blair said. ”We’re hoping to send them out as OVAC champs.”

Key reserves are seniors Justin Canei (6-7) and Hunter Payne (5-10), along with juniors Angelo Gurrera (5-9) and Trip Moore (6-1).

”Last year, we pretty much had one senior and, this year, everyone is back,” Blair noted.

”Over the last half of the season we’ve really come into our own and we’re playing our best basketball. Every season you go through your ups and downs, but our kids have been outstanding and have given maximum effort. You can’t ask for much more than that.”

Blair doesn’t believe having more OVAC finals experience will play a role vs. the Tigers. He does believe, though, the OVAC event itself provides quality prep for the postseason.

”It helps you get ready,” Blair said. ”It will give you confidence, if you’re playing well.

”It’s a very good display of the talent here in the valley.”

As for Wellsville, Blair simply knows the Tigers are loaded.

”They like to get up and down and play quick and space teams out,” he said. ”It’s a big challenge for us.”

Wellsville routed Trinity, 72-44, in their semifinal.

”I feel we are playing better defense right now,” Thompson said. ”And, going into the (state) tournament, you have to play good defense.”

The Tigers were ineligible for the OVAC Tournament last season because they didn’t play enough conference games.

”So, when they saw they were eligible this season the players started talking about getting back to the title game and advancing to the state tournament,” Thompson said.

”These guys have been playing together all their lives and they seem to be playing together really well.”

Thompson lauded his players’ ability to share the wealth and it shows in the stats as all of his starting five is averaging double figures in points.

Justin Miller, a 6-3 senior point guard, leads the way, averaging about 22 points a game. Michael Shope, a 6-1 senior, records about 14 ppg, while Jake Green, a 6-1 senior records about 13 ppg. Branzen Grodhaus, a 6-1 senior, and Garrett Scott, a 5-8 sophomore, score about 10 ppg.

Key reserves include senior Jace Cartwright (6-0) and junior Brandon Patterson (6-0).

”They can all get to the basket and handle the ball well,” Thompson said. ”We like to get after it.”

Blair thinks the game will come down to who can make stops.

”I think defense will be the key,” he said. ”We we good defense, we have a shot. I’m positive we can score, it’s going to come down to who can stop who.”


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