PARKERSBURG - The last time Parkersburg Catholic played Buffalo in a Class A regional basketball final in 1997, Rob Strcula was a junior on a Crusader cage squad that bested the Bison at PHS to go to the state tournament.
Come 16 years later at 7 p.m. today at PCHS, Strcula - himself now the Catholic head boys basketball coach - leads the 2013 Crusaders against visiting Buffalo again in another regional tilt with the same prize of a state berth on the line.
In both 2010 and 2011, Catholic also hosted regional contests back-to-back versus Madonna, winning the first en route to capturing a state championship, but bowing to the Blue Dons the next year as they went on to notch the state crown.
''Our guys have put themselves in a position where they're playing at home because of what they were able to accomplish in the sectional,'' said second-year head coach Strcula, whose fifth-ranked 21-3 Crusaders will face off tonight with the No. 8 Bison (20-4).
''So it (the homecourt) is a blessing to have. But at the same time, we've got to make sure we use that to our advantage.''
For Strcula, his team's primary defensive focus tonight will be on ''three really good players'' for Buffalo in junior guards Isiah Robinson and Laythan Good and senior forward Levi Jordan. ''We've really got to do a great job on them, but at the same time, we can't let their role players beat us,'' said Strcula. ''We've got to be able to defend everybody at every position, and play great defense in all phases of the game.''
W.Va. Boys Hoops
No. 8 Buffalo (20-4) at
No. 5 Parkersburg Catholic (21-3)
- When: 7 p.m. today
- Where: Parkersburg
Catholic High School
Strcula noted that ''this is the time of year where your wins are going to be fueled by defense, not offense. We won our two sectional games because of what we're doing defensively - and we got to keep that alive right now.''
Limiting turnovers, too, is another key tonight for PC. ''We have done a good job recently keeping our turnovers low,'' said Strcula. ''We only had 18 or 19 total in the last two games.'' Still though, added Strcula, ''we've got to play quick and fast, but we can't be in a hurry. We've got to be patient and find those opportunities to score, but be smart about it.''
Even with no seniors on his squad and starting all juniors, Strcula said that ''these guys - for as young as they are - don't play like juniors, but seniors. And everybody understands their role, and we're playing our best basketball right now because of where we're at in this part of the season.''
Starting for Catholic tonight will be juniors Payton Sturm, Jake Ullman, Joe Padden, Austin Luther and Ben Collie with junior Brady Kurucz - who has been hurt, but played in both sectional games - and sophomore Jake Boice the first two subs off the bench for Strcula.
''Not to be cocky or arrogant,'' said Strcula, ''but we had a good idea that we'd be in this position, playing in the regional with a shot to go to the state tournament with all juniors (as starters) because we have enough talent that we can get it done and enough guys who work hard for it.''