Height poses a challenge for St. Marys

PARKERSBURG – In the 90-plus year history of St. Marys boys basketball, the Blue Devils have reached the state tournament six times.

Starting at 7 p.m. today inside the Dan Greenleaf Gymnasium, St. Marys not only will be seeking its 20th win of the season, but the Blue Devils are playing in a Class A, Region I, affair versus Wheeling Central with a berth to next week’s state tournament in Charleston on the line.

“They are 6-1, 6-2, 6-2, 6-4 and 6-4. That’s a big nice size starting lineup for Class A basketball,” said SMHS head coach Mark Barnhart of the 12-12 Maroon Knights, who started the year 2-7. “You don’t see that very often.”

St. Marys (19-4) fans not only are going to be watching the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference’s Class 2A champions, but also will get to take in the dynamic Wheeling Central duo of junior David Park and freshman point guard Chase Harler. The pair combined for 32 points in their sectional championship game setback to Magnolia last week.

“Park, we call him a standing shooter,” Barnhart stated. “He can really shoot. They do a good job finding him and running him off screens and so forth. He can really shoot. Defensively, we have to play hard and have a lot of energy.

“Central is always going to fight and scrap for the loose balls, box out well and be fundamentally sound. We have to match their intensity, scrap and hustle, especially for those 50-50 balls. The thing is, you have to defend like crazy because they are going to defend you like crazy.”

The Blue Devils, who made the state tournament in 2012, 2009, 1995-96, 1988 and 1968, have been led by Andrew Cosper and Austin Bayless. Cosper, who averages five assists and 2.5 steals an outing, puts up around 16 points a game while Bayless averages around 15 and six boards an outing. Jordan Whitehair is averaging right at 10 points with seven rebounds and better than two steals while Connor Lancaster gives the Blue Devils another solid guy on the glass.

“It’s very exciting and it’s nice for St. Marys basketball to have all this at one time,” Barnhart said of the girls being at the state tournament and if the boys can punch their ticket it would be a first in school history for both teams to make it that far.

“In 2009, the boys made it and in 2010 the girls made it. In 2011, the girls made it and in 2012 the boys made it. One thing that never happened in those four years, we never hosted two regional games in both years (before this season).”

St. Marys, which was led by Cosper’s 23-point effort, reached the regional round after claiming a sectional title by defeating Clay-Battelle, 64-51. Bayless tallied 12 points in that contest while Whitehair, Lancaster and Colby Brode had seven apiece. Dylan Hupp finished with eight bench points for the Blue Devils.

“We like for our underclassmen to understand these opportunities don’t come around all the time,” Barnhart stressed. “You may think you are in 10th-grade and you got two years left.

“There are plenty of teams who thought next year would be the year and it wasn’t the year. When you have the opportunity, especially in a regional game, you need to lay it out there and give it your best shot.”