WEIRTON - A frantic pace and buckets that came in bunches dictated Weirton Madonna's 88-65 victory against Wheeling Central on Tuesday night at the Dube Dome.
With the victory, Madonna advanced in the West Virginia Region One, Section One tournament to play Bishop Donahue at 7 p.m. Friday at Brooke High School.
''When you factor in the emotion of the game, the fact it was the first game of the tournament and it was against Wheeling Central, everything combined (for) some shaky moments,'' Madonna coach George Vargo said. ''You don't want to look behind. You want to look foward. And Wheeling Central is always tough against us.
PHOTO By FRED YOUNCE
Wheeling Central's Justin Hammers fights through traffic against Weirton Madonna.
''Our effort was really good. I thought we did get a little lackadaisical for short stretches. I give Wheeling Central credit for its desire to win. I think we lost our composure two or three times. However, our effort was great at times.''
Braxton Nolte set the pace early for Wheeling Central bombing shots from all over the court. Nolte hit two deep 3-pointers from the left wing to give the Maroon Knight an early lead. He scored 13 of Wheeling Central's 18 first-quarter points, and 30 in total.
''He's our scorer,'' Wheeling Central coach Mel Stephens said. ''He's the guy we go to when we need points. We were able to get him open in the first half. His range is unbelievable. There are a lot of guys who think he can't shoot as far as he does. He's consistent.''
Nolte's early shooting streak gave way to Madonna's defense and exhausting pace.
''We struggle with pressure sometimes,'' Stephens said. ''They turned us over a few times. Those resulted in layups. Then enabled the lead.
''Madonna is a good team. They're defending champs, and they're probably ready to make another run.''
Nick Battista swiped the basketball on consecutive trips down the floor from the Maroon Knights. Madonna led 14-10 at the time.
''Our transition got us going. Clay (Rokisky) got hurt, and then Ross (Comis) picked up the tempo of the offense,'' Vargo said. ''Nick came in and hit a couple shots. We did a lot of goods things.''
Because of Nolte's play, Wheeling Central held a 18-16 lead wtih 1:10 remaing in the first quarter. Josh Egyud drilled a 3-pointer for Madonna, and the Blue Dons never trailed from that point forward.
Madonna led Wheeling Central 23-18 at the first break.
The game then turned into the Ross Comis show.
The Madonna sophomore scored 13 of the team's 21 points in the second quarter. He scored driving to the lane. He scored from behind the arc. He scored scored in transition. Wheeling Central simply couldn't match up with the athletic guard.
Comis finished the game with 34 points. He also snatched five steals for good measure.
''For a sophomore to get 34 points, it shows how special he is,'' Vargo said. ''That's outstanding. He took the game over. He was the spark.
''But you have to understand that other guys gave him the ball, and he finished.''
Once the Blue Dons were able to run with Comis and Battista, they quickly pulled away. Battistia finished with six steals. The team accumulated 13 steals The defense simply choked the life of any momentum Wheeling Central began to muster.
Wheeling Central was able to string together a six-point run late in the half to bring Madonna's lead to 10 points, 44-34, at halftime.
The Maroon Knights were able to control the boards through most of the contest. Wheeling Central held a 22-11 rebound advantage as the teams entered intermission.
Madonna opened the second half with a quick 10-0 run. Battista and Comis each contributed four points. A Drazen Frankovitch bucket was sandwiched in between.
Franovitch finished with a double-double. He contribued 19 points and 10 rebounds.
Madonna continued to run and score. The Blue Dons finished by shooting over 50-percent from the field. Wheeling Central was never able to close the gap to less than 19 points in the fourth quarter.
''It's the tournament. You either win or go home,'' Stephens said. ''That's the way we looked at it. I told our kids the other day at practice that Madonna has only lost three times since we beat them last season. We knew they were good, and we knew they were going to be a tough battle. We knew we had to play extremely well, and that didn't happen.''