PCHS suffers tough setback

CHARLESTON – Truly a tough, tough – make that very tough – loss for Parkersburg Catholic.

The Crusaders played their hearts out in a scrappy, gritty performance, but could never quite put Wheeling Central away as PCHS faltered in overtime in falling to the top-seeded Maroon Knights 59-57 Thursday night in the Class A state-tournament quarterfinals at the Charleston Civic Center Coliseum.

After Central, now 23-3, forced overtime at 51-51 with the last four points in regulation, it all came down to the extra four minutes to decide the outcome.

After a tie at 53-all, Payton Sturm fed Ben Collie all alone under the hoop for a 55-53 Catholic lead with 1:04 to go in OT, Jake Ullman sank a free throw at 41.6 seconds for a 56-53 advantage for PC. But by the 26.6-second mark, Central had knotted the count at 57, then stole a Crusader inbounds pass and was fouled at 23.8 with Thomas Stanley dropping in two free throws for a 59-57 edge.

Catholic worked the ball around, but was not able to shake the Knights’ defensive pressure with Ullman throwing up a 3-point prayer from way out at the buzzer that was short and wide of the basket.

“I felt like we let one slip away,” said Crusader boys basketball boss Rob Strcula, who took the blame for the last 23-second span. “At the end there, we tried to look for some things, like ball screens, to get a good shot, but Central defended us well,” he said.

PC, finishing its season at 16-9, led from 4-2 on in the first quarter, that closed with the Crusaders ahead 10-6. Then in the second stanza, Catholic surged on top by 19-8 at the 5:27 mark on an Ullman trey, two field goals by Joe Padden and a basket from Sturm. But by the half, Central had rallied to narrow the gap to just 23-21.

The third period saw three ties and two lead changes in a back-and-forth eight minutes, Catholic, though, got a Padden 3-ball late with 1:07 left for a 33-30 lead that was 33-31 going to the fourth quarter.

PC held a six-point bulge, 40-34, on a Padden trey with 4:43 remaining to be played, and still led by 41-36 before a 6-0 spurt propelled Central into a 42-41 edge at the 2:21 mark. Then though a 6-0 Crusader run pushed Catholic back ahead by 47-42 with only 1:27 left.

It was still PC on top by four, 51-47, with 27.1 seconds on the clock before Central sent the game to overtime on two Chase Harler free throws at 22.4 seconds and a feed by him to Alonzo Manns on the baseline to score with a half-second left.

“It was a game of runs,” said Ullman, who notched a game-high 21 points. “We felt like we were better than an eighth-seed coming into the (state) tournament,” and the Crusaders pretty much proved that to be right Thursday night.

Padden collected 15 points and Sturm added 11 for PC, while Harler paced Central with 18 points, followed by David Park with 11 and 10 from Manns.

For Maroon Knights head coach Mel Stephens, it “feels like we escaped with a win. But credit Catholic for that. They played really, really well.”