By JOSH STROPE
ST. CLAIRSVILLE - In a week that saw Wheeling Park take down the top two ranked teams in West Virginia on the road, a game against Indian Creek almost looked like a mismatch on paper.
Wheeling Park’s Errin Baynes goes up for two as Indian Creek’s Blake Roar trails the play during action of the OVAC 5A Championship game Saturday night at OUE.
Photo by Paul Krajnyak
It was anything but.
Wheeling Park came away with a fourth consecutive OVAC big-school championship, winning the Class 5A title with a 51-45 victory against a feisty Redskins team that never backed down and never gave in.
''We knew what we were getting into,'' Wheeling Park coach Michael Jebbia said. ''I thought in the second quarter, we sped them up a little bit to get a little bit of a cushion and they never really recovered.
''They kept coming though. We'd get it up to eight or 10 and then they would make a run.''
Wheeling Park (16-5) changed its defense throughout the game but had the most success with its press in the second quarter.
The Patriots forced seven Redskins turnovers in the span, taking a seven-point lead into halftime.
Wheeling Park led by 10 heading into the fourth and grabbed its largest lead as Boo Lathon scored the opening bucket of the quarter to go up 40-28.
Indian Creek responded by scoring the next seven points to trim the deficit to five as baskets by Dylan Hibbitts and Joe Bowers and a 3-pointer by Frank Kamarec put the Redskins in striking distance midway through the fourth.
''We had a plan and we tried to execute it. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't,'' Indian Creek coach Joe Dunlevy said. ''We didn't come down here to lose. When we cut it to five, we knew we had been here before. We have been in a lot of games this year where we have been down but gutted it out and came back to win.''
Lathon scored on the ensuing possession, but a Hibbitts conventional three-point play made the score 42-38 with 3:20 left to play.
Lathon scored again and was fouled. He missed the free throw, but Vondel Bell grabbed the rebound and made 1 of 2 to push the lead back to seven.
After Indian Creek's Shane Winland was stripped by Emil Popicg, Winland made up for his error by intercepting a pass on the other end. His driving layup was off but Matt Furda was there to clean up the miss and bring Indian Creek back to within five.
Errin Baynes made a basket for Wheeling Park and Kamarec hit a free throw to make it a six-point game with a minute remaining.
Lathon was called for a charge, giving Indian Creek the ball back, but Bell stole the ball from Bowers off the inbounds pass and flipped it to Lathon to seal the victory.
While turnovers came into play, Dunlevy was more disappointed in his team's ability to box out.
Indian Creek had just 12 rebounds. Lathon, who led all scorers with 20 points, had 11 rebounds.
''We knew we had to box out to have a chance and that was the thing we saw on film and that's we what had to do,'' Dunlevy said. ''I don't dwell on us making turnovers or missing shots, those are things that are going to happen over the course of a game. I dwell on us not doing the fundamentals. That turned out to be our undoing.''
Kamarec and Hibbitts led the Redskins with 11 points each. Baynes added 14 for the Patriots.
''Being the four seed, it turned out being a good thing because we know we can beat Morgantown on their floor if we have to and beating South Charleston on that new floor (at the Charleston Civic Center) where the state tournament is being held, this has given us a lot of confidence,'' Jebbia said. ''It's been a tough week but to finish it out with an OVAC championship is very special for these kids.''