Wheeling Central pulls away from St. Marys, 43-33 to claim sectional championship

WHEELING, W.Va. — Wheeling Central Catholic saw an 11-point halftime lead trimmed to just three points after the third quarter in the Class AA Region I, Section 1 championship game. The Maroon Knights clamped down on defense in the final frame and they sealed the game from the foul line to defeat St. Marys 43-33.

With the victory, Central (13-10) earned the right to host Ritchie County in Tuesday’s regional round. The Blue Devils will travel to face conference rival Williamstown.

After a deliberately-paced first quarter, Wheeling Central led 6-3 through the opening eight minutes. The Maroon Knights sat back in a zone before switching to more man-to-man defense in the second quarter.

“I thought the zone was really effective,” said Wheeling Central head coach Mel Stephens. “We started extending a little too much and they were able to get behind it and they got some damage done there. But we always have the man to go to in the back pocket. I thought the kids really executed the game plan really well.”

With the pace of play quickened, the Maroon Knights built a 22-11 halftime lead. Junior guard Quinton Burlenski scored 13 points in the opening half.

The Blue Devils (15-8) outscored Central 16-8 in the third quarter and St. Marys trailed 30-27 heading into the final frame.

“We still had the lead and the way the game was going, three points was really like six or seven. As long as they didn’t get the lead, I felt pretty comfortable. I thought we would be able to make enough shots and make enough plays to stay out there,” Stephens said.

However, the Maroon Knights yielded just six points in the fourth quarter and they secured the win from the foul line in the final minutes.

Central avenged a 61-60 overtime loss to to the Blue Devils on December 10.

“That was a long, long time ago. But we have definitely gotten better. I think even with some of the tough losses towards the end, they understood we were getting better.”

Burlenski led the Knights with 18 points and Jeremy Ratcliffe added 14. Central will welcome Ritchie County to Wheeling next Tuesday for the right to qualify for the state tournament.

“I told those guys it is really much better to play that game at home than it is to have to go on the road, especially if you would have to go to Williamstown.”

Joey Ramsey led the Devils with 14 points and Luke Powell added 10.

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