By FRED YOUNCE
For The Intelligencer
MORRISTOWN - For the first time since 1993 the Steubenville Catholic Crusaders boys basketball team can call itself sectional champions.
Led by Ryan Fletcher's 33-point, 10-rebound outing, the Crusaders topped Zanesville Rosecrans team 67-56 Friday during the Ohio Division IV Sectional Tournament at Union Local High School.
"We've been waiting 21 years," Central coach Sean Tucker said. "I've been waiting six, but we've been waiting 21 years to get here as our program, we're here, and we did it. We did it because we have a group of kids that are just relentless. Anyone could have folded, threw in the towel, or whatever, but we didn't. We picked it up in the second half, we did what we needed to do in the second half with adjustments, and our kids literally stepped up.
"There's not one kid that didn't step up in the second half. I'm just elated for our kids. This is just a phenomenal thing for our kids, our program, and our school. We're sectional champs. We've been waiting a long time to cut the net down. It feels good."
The Crusaders trailed 31-25 at halftime and fell behind by double-digits early in the second half before Central's senior- laden team was able to overwhelm the Bishops, who started three freshmen on the night.
The first half saw the Bishops connect on eight 3-pointers to propel themselves to the lead at halftime. In the second half the Crusaders held the Bishops to a pair of 3-pointers and outscored Rosecrans 42-25. The fourth quarter alone saw Central hold a 27-15 advantage after trailing 41-40 after three periods.
"They hit eight threes in the first half," Tucker said. "That's something we don't allow is three-point shots like that. They scored eight threes and probably shot 60 percent from three in the first half. In the second half we did a much better job.
"They started getting away from that three, but I think our defense forced them to get away from the three. Our defense really stepped up."
Fletcher scored 23 of his 33 in the second half as he found success getting to the hoop and drawing contact. The senior knocked down 12 of 15 free throws on the evening including stepping to the line 12 times in the fourth quarter.
"We new Ryan was going to have to have a big game coming in," Tucker said. "We knew that because when he has a big game we spark from him. The kids follow through from him. He starts crashing the boards; everyone else wants to crash the boards. He starts driving to the bucket; everyone else wants to drive to the bucket.
"He's a true leader, and we had a lot of leaders out there. It was a lot of players that allowed him to get those points. He did a lot. He executed the offense, he got to the bucket, and he did exactly what he was supposed to do."
Brenton Colabella added 11 points and six rebounds.
Michael Barber added 10 points to join his cohorts in double figures.
The foul line was big for the Crusaders as they shot 25 for 34 compared to the Bishops 6 of 10 effort. Central was able to create this advantage by consistently attacking the rim offensively as opposed to the Bishops who settled mostly for shots from the perimeter.
The Crusaders advance to the district semifinals where they face today's Malvern-Caldwell winner Wednesday at 7 p.m.