Cover photo by WV Sports Photography for RSN Sports
By Rich Stevens
Second-seeded Wheeling Central did its part.
Now, the Maroon Knights await the result of the second Class A semifinal at the 2016 boys state high school basketball tournament to see if its sectional nemesis will take care of business.
Wheeling Central coach Mel Stephens will seek his sixth state championship since taking over in 2003 when his team faces the winner of the meeting between defending champion Magnolia and St. Joseph in the Class A championship at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday.
What could only be mildly described as a result that wasn’t as close as expected, Wheeling Central rolled over No. 3 Tug Valley for a 69-47 semifinal win on Friday.
All-State guard Chase Harler had 27 points, seven rebounds and three assists to lead the Maroon Knights (24-2) before leaving the game in the fourth quarter of the rout.
Harler played much of the fourth with a noticeable limp, but didn’t leave the game for good before the result was no longer in question.
“I helped on (teammate Brent Price’s) guy and I stepped on his foot (in the third quarter),” Harler said. “I sprinted back into the training room, got it taped, and came back out. It’s hurting right now, but I’ll be ready for the (championship).”
Tug Valley (20-4) kept it close, despite leading scorer Jeremy Dillon picking up two fouls at 6:40 and 6:49 of the first quarter respectively.
Dillon, who averages 16.8 points, stayed in until the 1:45 mark of the first, avoiding any more foul trouble. He finished with 15 points and six rebounds, both team highs.
“We got off to a fast start and a quick lead, then Jeremy picked up his second foul on a block call,” Tug Valley coach Edwyn May said. “That changes the game. They went on a run when they created their distance before the half.”
Tug Valley trailed by 12 at halftime and managed to trim the advantage to six with 4:50 left in the third, but couldn’t get any closer.
The Panthers were overmatched by Harler, a 6-foot-3 matchup problem who is moved around the Wheeling Central offense to exploit mismatches.
“Late in the game they put a small guard on me and I had to take advantage of my size,” said Harler, who had 15 points in the second half.
Guard John Burkhalter also added a long-range option for the Maroon Knights, who are used to Harler getting most of the attention from opponents.
Burkhalter had a team-high 20 points in Wheeling Central’s quarterfinal win and added 15 on Friday. He is 5-of-10 on 3-point goals in the two games.
Wheeling Central will try to win its ninth small school championship in 11 tries since winning three titles in eight tries as a Class AA program.
The other semifinal was to be determined in the second game of Friday’s sessions.
St. Joseph is seeking its first championship-game berth in its second state tournament appearance. The Irish were eliminated in the quarterfinals in 1989.
Harler said he doesn’t care who the Maroon Knights play, although there’s a little something extra with Magnolia.
The Maroon Knights and Blue Eagles have played seven times since the beginning of the 2014-15 season with Magnolia winning five, including both sectional championships and last year’s state title game.
“We’ll take whoever wins that game,” Harler said. “Either team that wins, I’m confident that we’ll give them a run for their money. We have a little bit of a rivalry with Magnolia. We lost to them last year, so a little bit of revenge would be nice.”