Catholic, Gilmer meet in LKC finale

PARKERSBURG – Tonight’s 60th annual Little Kanawha Conference Night of Champions should be quite interesting at Roane County High School.

The boys from Parkersburg Catholic have been the team to beat as the Crusaders are trying to win the championship game to be kings of the LKC for the fifth time in six years.

Head coach Rob Strcula’s Crusaders enter the fray at 13-7 and are riding a four-game winning streak. However, PCHS is facing ninth-ranked Class A Gilmer County (16-4) and the Titans knocked off the Crusaders 59-56 back on Feb. 5 in Glenville during their lone meeting.

“It’s good to be back in it and to represent the (LKC) South is an honor in my opinion,” said Titan head coach Steve Shuff. “It’s something we put high on our priority list every year.

“There is some good and bad being familiar with your opponent. When we played them they were missing a pretty key ingredient (first team all-stater Jake Ullman). We are aware of that.”

Ullman is coming off a 23-point game in his last outing against Ritchie County, which saw Crusader Joe Padden also tally 23 points and point guard Payton Sturm chip in nine counters.

“It’s a difficult challenge facing a very good team,” said Strcula, who was an assistant coach when PCHS toppled Gilmer County, 52-28, in the 2009 LKC title game.

“Gilmer is just taller than us across the board and you can’t teach height. It’s hard to simulate height in practice. We’re not a tall team to begin with and that’s the tough challenge.”

The Titans have been led by senior Austin Cunningham, who is averaging better than 18 points and has knocked down 50 3s. Austin Ratliff is averaging nearly 12 points and four steals a game.

Strcula said he wasn’t pleased with the Crusaders’ energy level when the two teams met previously. He also noted Titan frontcourt players Cory Grogg and Zach Chapman “were much improved from last year.”

If the Crusaders are to carry a five-game winning streak into next week’s sectional tournament, Strcula knows what needs to happen.

“We’ve got to play four quarters of high intensity, high energy basketball and we can’t have letdowns and a lull of two or four minutes and go brain dead,” said the third-year head man.

“We’ve got to get stops on defense and play defense until we rebound. If we are getting stops, hopefully that will feed into a fastbreak. Our offense needs to start with our defense.”

Even though Ullman is back, Shuff knows the Titans can’t just concentrate on stopping him.

“I watched them Monday against Ravenswood and against Ritchie County,” Shuff added. “Ullman is shooting the ball really well right now.

“This time of year you hope you are prepared for everything. I’m anxious and I think the kids are anxious. It’s going to be interesting.”

The championship game is scheduled for an 8 p.m. tip and prior to that the 3-point Top Gun competition will take place at 4:30 p.m. The consolation game featuring North runner-up Williamstown (14-6) against South runner-up and host Roane County (16-3) is set to get underway at 5:40 p.m.

Roane County, ranked ninth in Class AA, receives 20-plus points and nearly nine boards a game from Jacob Neal. Raider teammates Tyler Harper and Isaak Wilmoth average more than 10 points a contest.

Williamstown, which is coming off a 56-54 road setback Thursday night to Madonna, has a trio of players – Landon Travis, Gage Wix and Chandler Weber – averaging between 15 and 17 points an outing.