State Tournament: Fourth time charm for Wheeling Central
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The white smoke billowed from Vatican City at 2:05 p.m. Wednesday.
The new Pontiff, Pope Francis, would approve of seventh-seeded Wheeling Central's righteous routing of No. 2 Magnolia 58-35 at the Charleston Civic Center in the Class A quarterfinals of the state tournament.
Central (14-12) will play Charleston Catholic (23-3) in the semifinals at 9:30 a.m. Friday.
"Shocked," Magnolia Coach Dave Tallman said after the loss.
"I have no explanation. We try to hold our opponents under 60 points. We did that - we held them to 58. Where the offense was, I have no idea."
Tallman had good reason to be shocked.
Magnolia played the Maroon Knights twice in the regular season and again in the sectionals. The Blue Eagles won all three games over Central by successively larger margins culminating in a 24-point shellacking on March 1.
Magnolia entered the tournament with a 21-4 record and a No. 2 seed.
Those facts bore no weight on the opening round matchup.
Central's poised and patient play on both sides of the ball seemed nothing less than providential.
Goliath had no answer for David's stones.
"Coming in I don't think many people gave us a shot," Central Coach Mel Stephens said. "But the guys in our locker room truly believed we could get a win and we went out with a game plan that we thought could do it."
Wheeling Central opened the game with 21-2 run that extended into the second quarter.
David Park, who scored 15 points on 5-for-5 shooting in the first half from behind the arc, led the Knights. He scored 12 of those points in a 3-minute span at the end of the first quarter and beginning of the second.
"The first one went in so I just kept shooting it," Park said.
"My teammates were getting me the ball when I was open and I just let it fly."
Park finished with 26 points and 12 rebounds.
It wasn't just the offense that was divine for Central. The Maroon Knights shut down the high-powered Magnolia offense, holding the Blue Eagles to 35 points on 12-for-46 shooting.
"Defensively was a big key," Stephens said. "Our defensive ability to help on their big guys inside and I think Brandon (Wallace's) defensive game on Mark Winters was outstanding. They averaged 74 coming in against us in the three games. We held them to 35 today."
Mark Winters, the state's leading scorer, struggled with the Central defense. He finished with 20 points on 7-for-21 shooting from the floor and 5-for-6 from the free throw line.
The 6-foot-6 senior spent little time in the paint.
"They were denying me - tripling down on me every time I caught it in the paint," Winters said.
Winters went 1-for-9 from behind the 3-point line and spent a good deal of time on the perimeter.
"I was trying to find different ways to get Zach (Willhoite) more open and isolated inside," Winters said. "He's always been key."
Winters was the only Blue Eagle to finish in double figures.
"We got off to a better start than we imagined," Stephens said. "The longer the game went and the longer that lead stayed up there the more pressure was on them knowing that they were expected to win."
Magnolia never found a sense of urgency and trailed Central by as many as 30 in the second half.
"It's basketball," Tallman said. "Like I told them - it happens to the Lakers, it happens to Duke, and today it happened to Magnolia. We're very disappointed."