10:00am: Talkline with Hoppy Kercheval

Maxwell shines, Wheeling Central downs Hampshire to reach Class AAA final

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Hampshire’s successful season and run to the Class AAA state tournament was built off its aggressive defense.

In Friday’s Class AAA semifinal against fifth-seeded Wheeling Central, the No. 8 Trojans storybook year came to an end after the Maroon Knights shot nearly 55 percent from the field to claim a 61-49 victory at the Charleston Coliseum.

“Tonight’s game is probably the best we’ve shot in a month and a half,” Central coach Mel Stephens said. “If you’re making shots, that makes life a little bit easier.”

Outside of three separate one-point deficits in the opening quarter, the Maroon Knights (14-2) never trailed to put themselves in Saturday’s Class AAA final against No. 3 Shady Spring.

Clinging to a 13-11 lead after one quarter, WCHS put together an impressive stretch over the first 5-plus minutes of the second quarter to build a double-digit lead.

Central senior J.C. Maxwell, who scored his team’s first nine points, combined with Ryan Reasbeck to account for the Maroon Knights’ first nine points of the second period to help Central hold a 22-13 lead.

“That stretch in the second quarter that we weren’t scoring ultimately hurt,” Hampshire coach Daniel Alkire said. “It’s a game of runs and when you’re not getting the run it can be tough.

The advantage grew to 11 soon after, before three-pointers later in the half from the Trojans’ Drew Keckley and Carter Smith closed the Hampshire (15-5) halftime deficit to 29-21.

Maxwell had 19 of his game-high 30 points in the opening half.

“I got going early,” Maxwell said. “I struggled Wednesday, but stayed confident and hit my first few shots. Credit to these guys. They kept looking for me and staying confident in me. I kept shooting and they kept going in.”

Although the Maroon Knights held a 13-point lead early in the third quarter, Hampshire continued to battle and put together its best stretch of the game over the final 6 minutes of the period to get to within 42-38. The Trojans made 7-of-13 shots in the quarter to score 17 points, with seven coming from Smith and five from Keckley.

Just beyond the midway point of the fourth, however, the Maroon Knights had increased the lead to 12 on the strength of a 10-2 spurt to begin the quarter. Reasbeck scored half of the 10 points, while Leyton Toepfer made a three and Maxwell scored inside.

“When they cut it to four, we really buckled down and got back to what we were trying to do on both ends and were able to open it back up,” Stephens said.

Hampshire twice got the deficit back to seven down the stretch, but Maxwell drove in and scored with 1:48 remaining to help the Maroon Knights seal it.

Maxwell made 13-of-17 field goals and led all players with 12 rebounds. He also had three blocks and three steals.

Reasbeck added 16 points, while Toepfer made all three of his shots and scored eight points.

“Supposedly (Maxwell) has been cold of late,” Alkire said. “He decided today to find his groove and that’s awesome for him going into the biggest game of his life. Between two guys, forty-six points is tough. They did what they were supposed to do and took advantage of what I was trying for us to prevent, so good job to them.”

Keckley led Hampshire with 15 points, while Smith scored 10.

Despite failing to reach the final, the Trojans became the first No. 8 seed to win a game at the state tournament.

“We didn’t look past them,” Stephens said. “We realized we had to win tonight if we had any thoughts of playing tomorrow.”

Wheeling Central Catholic postgame press conference

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