CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Michael Toepfer grew up dreaming of the scenario he found himself in late Wednesday night.
With fifth-seeded Wheeling Central trailing No. 4 Nitro by two points and 3.8 seconds remaining, the Maroon Knights’ junior guard threw an inbound pass to teammate J.C. Maxwell, who quickly got it back to Toepfer. Following two dribbles, Topefer connected on a three-pointer from the top of the key that beat the buzzer to lift Wheeling Central to a 40-39 victory over the Wildcats in a Class AAA quarterfinal at the Charleston Coliseum.
“It was amazing,” Toepfer said. “I always dreamed about doing that when I was younger. I’m just happy it went in for my teammates, especially the seniors.”
With the win, the Maroon Knights (13-2) advance to a semifinal Friday and will meet No. 8 Hampshire.
Neither team led by more than five throughout the game, and the Wildcats (15-4) appeared set to overcome the 37-35 deficit they faced after Central’s Ryan Reasbeck made a triple with 2:16 left.
Nitro pulled even on Joseph Udoh’s layup, then took a 39-37 lead when Kolton Painter scored inside with 1:01 to play.
The Wildcats had a chance to put the game out of reach, but Bryce Myers missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with eight seconds remaining. Nitro then gave two fouls to get to five team fouls for the half, but never committed a sixth foul before Toepfer’s game winner.
“I couldn’t see if we did or not, but we didn’t get the foul. The plan was to foul though,” NHS coach Austin Lowe said. “It’s my fault. I should’ve called timeout and been better prepared for that. It’s my responsibility to make sure they know what’s going on.”
Had the Wildcats’ fouled again, Toepfer said the Maroon Knights were prepared to give them a similar look as to what transpired on the winning shot.
“We’d have taken it back out and run the same play,” he said. “They didn’t and luckily it went in and we got the win.”
Central held the largest first-half leads at 13-9 and 15-11, but the Wildcats closed the half with a 7-2 surge to lead 18-17.
“They were up one, but we’d held them to eighteen, which is good,” Central coach Mel Stephens said. “In a low-scoring game, you have to gut it out a little bit and we were able to do that and make the play at the end.”
Udoh scored the first basket of the second half, but Central answered with a 12-4 run and went up by five on Leyton Toepfer’s three with 3:56 left in the third.
The Wildcats, however, answered with five straight points and tied it at 29 on Udoh’s dunk just ahead of the fourth quarter.
Reasbeck led all players with 17 points. Michael Toepfer added 11 and Leyton Toepfer scored nine, with the trio accounting for all but three Central points.
The Maroon Knights made 9-of-26 threes, while the Wildcats hit only 1 of 15.
“We made them work for everything they got,” Stephens said. “My guys basically had that attitude that they weren’t going to lose. They want to stay and play another game.”
Trevor Lowe led Nitro with 14 points and eight rebounds. Painter scored 13 and Udoh added 10 points and 10 rebounds.
“Credit to Wheeling Central, they made a big-time shot in a big-time situation,” coach Lowe said. “It’s a tough way for these guys to go out.”