Wheeling Central used a 14-1 in the first half and never looked back in disposing of the Paden City Wildcats 87-49 in the Region I co-championship March 12 at Wheeling Central Gymnasium. The win advanced the heavily favored Maroon Knights to the WVSSAC Class-A State Tournament March 20 in Charleston.
Paden City held an 11-10 lead after Zach Heasley converted a conventional three-point play. Shortly afterward, the 'Cats' Luke Cooper picked up his second foul and sat for a spell, while the Knights went on their scoring run.
Central combined outside shooting (nine triples) and a nice transition game to score several easy baskets that included three dunks to take total command and take the road-weary Wildcats completely out of their game for a 36-18 advantage at the break.
After a Paden City miss to open the second half, Central drilled a deuce. The Wildcats answered with a Kennedy Cain three-pointer. However, the Knights outscored their guests 30-7 the rest of the period, including back-to-back triples to grab a commanding 68-28 after three periods of play.
Cain netted a jumper for the first points of the final period. After a Wheeling deuce, the 'Cats' Hayden Hizer hooked up with Heasley on a nice fast break basket. However, the Knights answered that with a jumper, three-pointer, and two breath-taking dunks to send the Central faithful to their feet and force a Paden City time out.
When play resumed, the Knight tandem of Park and Harler was on the bench for the remainder of the game.
After the Central onslaught, Paden City went to work out-scoring the Knights 19-10 the rest of the way, including baskets from beyond the arc by Hizer, Zach and Aaron Heasley to make the final score a little more respectable.
"When you don't match the other team's intensity or toughness, that's what's going to happen," said Paden City veteran Head Coach Fred King. "We never got to one 50/50 ball all night. Not one! They smacked us in the mouth and we didn't punch back. We have to learn to counter punch when we are in that situation and we didn't do that. We can't be afraid to fight back."
Central's Dynamic Duo of Park and Harler finished with a combined 51 points, 29 from Park and 22 by Harler, including three bonus baskets.
"They've got the best player (Harler) in the state Class-A. In fact, he is the best player I have seen in Class-A or AA this year," added King. "You have a point guard who can dunk the ball with two hands and shoot three pointers like that? I haven't seen anyone better at this level."
Paden City's season record fell to 11-12, after making the OVAC Class-A tournament and placing runner up in the Hometown Invitational.
However, the entire squad will back next season, including Kennedy Cain who finished the night with 18 points and nine rebounds, while Zach Heasley contributed 15 points and seven boards.
In addition, Cooper netted six and Hizer sank five markers, including a threeball. Aaron Heasley netted a triple, while Devin Price and Craig Allen each sank a free throw.