PARKERSBURG - Although Parkersburg Catholic is the eighth seed, the Crusaders weren't acting like one as they prepared for a first-round Class A state basketball tournament clash at 5:30 p.m. today versus top-seeded Wheeling Central (22-3) at the Charleston Civic Center Coliseum.
Catholic (16-8) dropped its only meeting this season with the Maroon Knights halfway through the cage campaign by a 59-45 score on Jan. 29 in Wheeling.
"We played them really well this year up there," said Crusader head coach Rob Strcula.
"It was a three or five-point game with about four minutes to go in the fourth quarter, and we just fell apart. Part of that was because of what they were doing - they're a good defensive team. But the other part is we kind of just gave it away a little bit; we gave some possessions away. So we played hard, we played well, we just didn't execute very well on offense."
For Strcula and his staff, "we really don't see ourselves as an eighth seed," he said. "Granted our record is the worst of anybody in the state-tournament field. But I look at our 13-8 record in the regular season as a representation of what we went through in terms of of our schedule and our adversity with injuries. I don't think it represents where we're at right now though. We think of ourselves as one of the top-tier teams in the field, and I think we're better than what we're ranked right now."
Strcula stressed that "we're playing our best team basketball right now. But more important, we're playing our best-focused and intense basketball. And they're playing together, which has worried me with getting Jake (Ullman) back so late in the season. They've really come together and built some team chemistry."
Ullman, a 5-foot-11 senior guard and PC's leading scorer at 20 ppg, had a vertebrae injury in his back and missed half of the regular season. Forward Joe Padden, a 6-1 senior, hit from the field at a 16.6 clip per game, while 5-8 senior point guard Payton Sturm is at 7.0 ppg, and 6-1 senior forwards Austin Luther and Ben Collie have connected for 4.1 and 4.2 ppg respectively.
Primary reserves off the bench for Strcula are seniors Brady Kurucz, a 6-2 forward (6.1 ppg), and Carson Weyer. a 5-9 guard (3.0 ppg), along with juniors Nick Roedersheimer (3.5 ppg) and Jake Boice (3.2 ppg).
On Central, Strcula said that "you have to respect their two best players in (6-3 sophomore guard) Chase Harler (20.2 ppg) and (6-5 senior guard) David Park (17.9 ppg). They're very good players, both very intelligent players and very fundamentally sound."
The Crusaders haven't been to the state tournament since the last time they won it all in 2010. "Our seniors were in the eighth grade then, so none of these guys have been there as a player," said Strcula. "They want to go out there and prove they're worthy to be there, on the biggest stage for high school basketball in the state."
To get his players acclimated to the bigger floor in Charleston, Strcula took his team to practice Saturday and Monday on the floor at Ohio University in the Convocation Center. "We had two great practices there," he said. "It gave our guys an idea about the size of the floor at the Civic Center, the depth perception and shooting."
For Sturm, "this is what we've always dreamed of, but we're not quite satisfied yet. Our goal is to not just make it to the first round, but to make it to Saturday and win the state championship, so we've still got work to do.
"We're not stopping yet. We've got three down in the tournament and three more to go.
"We don't need any motivation for games like this. It's the state tournament. What more can you say? If you're not hyped up enough about that already, then you shouldn't be out here."