WOODSFIELD - Steubenville Catholic Central head coach Sean Tucker told his team during one of its second-half time outs Tuesday night, "It's not going to be easy."
The Crusaders' long trek to Monroe Central for their Wheeling Hospital OVAC Basketball Tournament Class 3A semifinal against the Seminoles presented many challenges. But when the going got tough, Tucker turned to his seniors, one of whom helped turned the tide in a big way.
Ryan Fletcher poured in nine of his game-high 24 points during a 13-0 third-period spurt that turned a six-point deficit into a seven-point lead and Steubenville Catholic held on from there for a 63-59 victory.
LOOKING FOR HELP — Steubenville Catholic Central’s Ryan Fletcher looks around Monroe Central defender Bryan Duffy during Tuesday’s 63-59 win by the Crusaders. Catholic Central will take on Fort Frye at 10 a.m. Saturday at Ohio University-Eastern.
-- Paul Krajnyak
The Crusaders, seeded third, advance to face Fort Frye for the championship at 10 a.m. Saturday inside Ohio University Eastern's Health and Physical Education Building. The top-seeded Cadets topped Linsly, 65-55, in Tuesday's other semifinal.
The Seminoles will travel to Linsly on Friday night for the championship consolation contest.
"I've watched Scooter (Monroe Central head coach Tolzda) coach for a long time and he has a great program," Tucker said. "So whenever you can get a victory over a coach that's been as successful as him, it's good for your team.
"Our top seven guys really stepped up."
The Crusaders (15-5) trailed 8-0 early, but clawed their way back and kept the deficit under 10 throughout the first half.
Early in the third quarter, however, something finally clicked.
Trailing 37-31, Fletcher converted a pair of layups making the score 37-35. Then, at the 2-minute mark, Matt Martello gave Steubenville Catholic its first lead of the night by draining a 3-pointer making the score 38-37.
Tony Barber made the score 41-37 with a jumper at the 1:22 mark. Then, with 31.9 showing on the clock, Fletcher completed a 3-point play making the score 44-37.
Monroe Central's Gavin Morton stemmed the tide with a bucket (44-39), but Fletcher ended the period with another layup making the score 46-39 after three.
"We went through a stretch where we simply didn't score," Tolzda said of the third, where the Crusaders outscored the Seminoles, 20-8. "And, us not scoring allowed them to do what they do really well.
"I thought up to that point we totally took them out of their game. You could see when they got the lead we had to scramble a little bit. They started playing their game."
Tucker agreed the Seminoles (13-6) had his team flustered in the early going.
"I don't know what it was," he said. "We were pretty flat, offensively and defensively. They did a great job in the 2-3 zone. We knew they were going to run a 2-3 and they did a good job taking us out of our offense."
Until the run in the third, though. From there, the Crusaders went up by as much as seven, 51-44, with about 5 minutes remaining.
Monroe Central battled back, drawing to within two, 55-53, on one of four Tanner Burkhart 3s with 2:10 left. Fletcher responded however by canning two free throws (he was 6 of 6 in the fourth) to put the Crusaders back up 57-53 with 2:04 left.
Seth Alleman twice in the last two minutes drew Monroe Central to within two points. But both times Steubenville Catholic responded with either a basket of two free throws to thwart the threat.
"When you have five seniors on the floor you hope you're able to get through those stretches," Tucker said. "My hat's off to those guys. They've worked their tails off. We knew coming in (Class) 3A was a tough group. I think it's the toughest title race there is. We are fortunate to get to the championship game Saturday."
J.D. Dombrowski and Michael Manfresca each added 11 points for the Crusaders, while Martello finished with 10.
Bryan Duffy paced the Seminoles with 15 points. Burkhart finished with 14, while Chandler Kuhn added 12.
"All in all, it was a great game and our kids played with a lot of passion like I knew they would," Tolzda said. "We just came up short against a really good team.
"I think we gained a lot from this game. I think we went through a spell when losing Curtis (Nixon) kind of hurt our psyche, but that's over with and no longer a part of who we are. I think we'll grow from this."
Catholic Central 63, Monroe Central 59
Catholic Central 11 15 20 17 - 63
Monroe Central 17 14 8 20 - 59
CATHOLIC CENTRAL: M.Barber 1 0-0 2; Colabella 1 0-0 2; T.Barber 1 0-0 3; Rigaud 0 0-0 0; Manfresca 5 1-2 11; Fletcher 8 7-8 24; Martello 3 2-4 10; Dombrowski 4 3-4 11. Totals 23 13-18 63. 3-pointers: T. Barber, Fletcher.
MONROE CENTRAL: Hooper 0 0-0 0; Jorris 2 1-2 7; Howell 0 0-0 0; Burkhart 4 2-2 14; Brown 1 0-0 2; Duffy 4 7-8 15 Alleman 3 1-3 7 Morton 1 0-1 2 Kuhn 3 6-8 12. Totals 18 17-24 59. 3-pointers: Burkhart 4, Jorris 2.