Crusaders in regional final tonight

PARKERSBURG – Parkersburg Catholic’s boys basketball team has been at this crossroads before.

The last two seasons under now third-year head coach Rob Strcula, the Crusaders have reached the regional, only to fall one win short of a berth in the Class A state tournament to Madonna and Buffalo respectively.

Tonight, 15-8 PCHS has that opportunity yet again as No. 2-ranked Huntington St. Joseph (18-3) comes to town for a Region IV contest at 7 p.m. with the prize of a trip to Charleston next week for the winner.

“We’re playing our most intense and focused basketball right now,” said Strcula. “Mentally, we’re tuned in, so if we’re focused tonight, then I think everything else will fall into place.”

Plus the fact, noted Strcula, “that we’ve got to get over this hump somehow.” Catholic has been in the regional five straight times going back to 2010, when the Crusaders won en route to the state championship. But since then, they’re 0-3.

Sizing up the Irish, who PC lost to in Huntington 62-57 on Jan. 4 in the only meeting of the season, Strcula said, “St. Joe’s a very athletic team, a very quick team. They’re a very tough opponent. They’ve got three really skilled guards in (senior Brian) Conaty, (freshman Keith) Clemons and (senior Payne) Meadows, and two really good post players who work hard in (senior Thomas) Rabel and (junior Ian) Clarke.”

So Strcula knows his team will “have to take care of ball against them and box out, because those are the two things that really hurt us in the first game. We were up eight (points) with about four minutes to go and they fought back to win, but at the same time, we did some things to help them. So we have to make sure we’re sharp all the way through and play a better end-of-the game series.”

For Strcula, “if we defend, rebound and take care of the ball, we’ll put ourselves in a position to hopefully come out on top.”

Catholic fared OK without senior guard Jake Ullman, who fractured a vertebrae in his back in mid-January and sat out more than a month. “But we were just missing that extra piece,” said Strcula, “because Jake can drive and create his own shots, so it gets some other people open, because they have to guard Jake.”

Point guard Payton Sturm and swingman Joe Padden also start for Strcula, who has also started Ben Collie, Austin Luther, Brady Kurucz, Carson Weyer, Nick Roedersheimer and Jake Boice at one time or another this season. “Now at this point in the season, everybody knows what Joe and Jake can do and looks to stop them, so that’s when we need all those other guys to step up and make plays when given the opportunity,” said Strcula.

“Our guys don’t want to end the season the way they did the last two years at home in the regional. There is no second chance; there is no tomorrow.”