PARKERSBURG - For the fourth time in the last five years, the Little Kanawha Conference boys basketball championship will reside in the North Division as No. 5 (Class A) Parkersburg Catholic held off a furious second-half rally by South Division champ Roane County to pull out a heart-throbbing 66-63 victory Saturday night at the Crusaders' gymnasium.
"We came out and did exactly what we wanted to do in the first two quarters, but we just did not finish well," said second-year PC head coach Rob Strcula. "What we learned tonight is that we have to play hard for four quarters from here on out or our season could be over."
With the victory, the Crusaders improved to 18-3 overall while the Raiders, who were playing in the title game for the first time since the 1996-97 season, dropped to 14-6.
"It (having not played in the NOC's title game) showed in the first half," said Raiders head coach Greg Alfred. "We played a lot better in the second half because we started to play our game. We started pressuring the ball on defense and crashing the boards on offense."
Trailing 43-21 after the first 16 minutes of action, Roane County and the Crusaders traded points over the first four minutes of the third quarter. However, a bucket by Jacob Neal ignited a 10-5 run over the remainder of the frame to pull the Raiders back to within 16 at 57-41 with eight minutes left to play.
And what a final quarter it was for the South champs as a rebound bucket by Alston Spears and a three-point play by Neal sliced the PC lead to 11 at 57-46 with 5:41 showing on the clock. Two free by the Crusaders' Jake Ullman, who led all scorers with 25 points, slowed down the bleeding momentarily.
But another deuce by Neal, who finished with a team-high 17 points, started an 8-0 run the cut the deficit to five, 59-54, with 2:28 left to play.
Parkersburg Catholic finally got its offense untracked as Austin Luther took a Payton Sturm pass for an easy lay-in and then added a pair of free throws to push the margin to nine, 63-54, with 1:43 showing on the clock.
The Raiders, however, were far from finished as another rebound bucket, this one coming from Elijah Onwuka, followed by a triple by Neal and a layup by Zack McKown made it a three-point game, 64-61, with 33 ticks on the clock.
PC's Joe Padden made good on one of two from the stripe to make it a two-possession game, 65-61. But two free throws by Roane's Tyler Harper put the score at 65-63 with 3.2 seconds left in the game.
Ullman, however, was fouled on the ensuing throw-in and made good on one of two from the charity stripe for the game's final score.
Roane ran into a hot-shooting Parkersburg Catholic squad early and found itself trailing by 10 at 24-14 after the game's first eight minutes of action.
Ben Collie got things rolling for the hosts, hitting a triple in the game's first 45 seconds to ignite a 12-4 run by the Crusaders over the first three minutes.
Ullman led PC, which hit on 10 of 15 from the field in the opening quarter, with 11 points, as the Crusaders made good on four of seven from behind the arc.
Roane kept the margin to within 10 at 29-19, thanks to a triple by Tyler Harper. But a 14-2 run over the final six minutes turned the game into a rout by intermission.
In the third-place game, Ritchie County (15-5) made its first trip back to the NOC a successful one as senior D.J. Burgess scored a team-high 22 points to lead the Rebels to a 71-58 win over Clay County (11-10).
Burgess, who finished with nine rebounds, six assists and three steals, was joined in double figures by Andrew Davis (11), Johnny Hogue (11) and Justin Sage (10).
The Panthers were paced by sophomore Stephen Cole's game-high 25 points and Alex Burkhamer's 12 points - all scored in the final quarter when Clay County mounted a last-minute rally to pull to within 11 at 63-52 on a rebound bucket by Cole.
In the evening's first event - the Top Gun Competition - Ritchie County's Seth Cottrill and Braxton County's Austin Rhodes canned 14 long-range bombs to force a shoot-out.
The Eagles' Rhodes went first and nailed 11 of his 25 shots from beyond the arc. But that would not be enough as Cottrill became the first Rebel to win the event since Mike Urbati accomplished the feat in 1996, when he bucketed 17 3-pointers.