ST. CLAIRSVILLE, Ohio (WKBN) – Weirton Madonna was on a mission to win the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference championship Saturday afternoon.
After coming up short in the past two OVAC 1A championship games, the third time was the charm for the Blue Dons as they defeated Wellsville 65-62 by preventing a potential game-tying three-point shot by Wellsville’s Justin Miller at the buzzer.
The Blue Dons snapped the Tigers’ 10-game winning streak in the process.
Chase Dibortolomeo helped the Blue Dons get on the board first with a three-pointer. Weirton Madonna played in a tight zone defense to take away Wellsville’s jump shooting. Tavon Jeter used his length to score four points from the post, charging the Blue Dons to a 12-3 lead to start the contest.
The Tigers rallied in the final two minutes of the quarter to cut the lead to 15-10. The lone scorer for the Tigers in the first quarter was Jake Green, who had 10 points on two three-pointers. Green was well covered for the rest of the game, finishing with 16 points on four shots from behind the arc.
The second quarter provided immense rebounding struggles for Wellsville. The Blue Dons continued to control the tempo and limit the Tigers’ shot attempts.
Joey Ewusiak was relentless down low. He finished the first half with nine points, six rebounds, and two assists. Wellsville tallied only seven rebounds as a team during the first half of play.
The Blue Dons pushed the lead to double digits with under two minutes to go in the first 16 minutes of the game.
Justin Miller and Michael Shope started getting hot offensively late in the half. Miller stole the ball off an inbound pass and made a layup plus the foul. On the next Tiger possession, Shope made a layup from the post to cut the deficit to six. Miller finished with 10 points at the half, while Shope tallied eight points.
Justin Canei provided four key points off the bench to extend Weirton’s lead to 36-26 at the half. Canei finished the game with eight points and two rebounds.
The game was beginning to slip away from Wellsville in the second half.
Chase Dibortolomeo made his second three-pointer of the afternoon to extend the lead to 13. Joey Ewusiak crashed the glass emphatically with an offensive rebound followed by a layup to give the Blue Dons their largest lead of the game of 43-28 with six minutes left in the third quarter.
After the Tigers called timeout, they were on the comeback trail. Justin Miller soared for a fast-break slam dunk with 4:26 left in the third to give Wellsville the momentum. Miller managed to hit two three-pointers in the third quarter to help spark his team and cut the deficit to just three points at the end of the third quarter.
Wellsville recorded its first and only lead of the game when Michael Shope drove the lane for a layup plus the foul, giving the Tigers a 55-54 lead with six minutes left in the game. Shope finished with 17 points, three rebounds and three assists on the day.
Joey Ewusiak and Tavon Jeter expended all of their energy during the final minutes of the contest. Ewusiak scored eight of his team’s 13 fourth-quarter points. Tavon Jeter used his sensational defensive athleticism to keep the Tigers away from the rim late.
Wellsville desperately tried to keep the game level by way of a three-point shot. Justin Miller knocked down his final three-pointer to cut the lead to 63-60 with 1:35 left in regulation. Miller finished with a team-high 20 points and seven rebounds.
Joey Ewusiak drew all of Wellsville’s attention on the following possession to free up Tavon Jeter for an offensive rebound followed by a put-back layup to extend the Blue Dons’ lead to 65-60 with 49 seconds left.
Wellsville was once again under huge pressure as they turned the ball over on the following possession. Michael Shope managed to steal the ball back and find Branzen Grodhaus underneath for a layup to cut the deficit to 65-62 with 12 seconds remaining.
Weirton Madonna gave Wellsville one more opportunity to tie the game on a careless turnover. Joey Ewusiak received an inbound pass with his left foot touching the sideline. This gave the Tigers one last chance to hit a three-pointer and send the game into overtime.
Justin Miller had the hot hand and was prepared to take the final shot. Miller tried to create space while being swarmed by Blue Don defenders. Miller got the shot he wanted, but the shot rimmed out at the buzzer.
The Blue Dons were crowned OVAC 1A champions in a game for the ages.
Weirton Madonna’s head coach, Chris Blair, explained what his team did to walk away with the win:
“Our main goal was to stop their transition game. Joey and Tavon are great senior leaders. The two of them made key plays all day. When Wellsville made their comeback, we expressed to our guys that tough times don’t last and that tough people do. Wellsville is a championship caliber team so we needed to maintain our composure and go get the win. This win was great for our program because we were determined to walk out of here with the gold this time around. The guys decided that they would not be denied.”
Wellsville’s head coach, David “Bug” Thompson, reflected on the tough loss.
“We were slow coming out of the gates because of the 10 a.m. start. Our biggest problem was rebounding today. Weirton Madonna did a great job of taking away our inside cuts, so we had to shoot jump shots. This is a learning lesson for all the guys that we have to come out ready to play every game.”
Joey Ewusiak was named OVAC Final MVP as he finished with 21 points, eight rebounds, and three assists.
Tavon Jeter had 20 points, six rebounds, and three assists. Jeter explained that this win feels great because they finally get to come out on top as seniors.
Joey Ewusiak discussed the mentality he had playing in the most important game of the season.
“We ran the last possession situation in practice and it paid off. We will give Miller that deep of a three at the end of the game most of the time, even though he was on fire for the whole second half. I just knew that I had to attack the glass and get into the paint early to help my team. I feel that I am a leader of this team and that I have to give them my best every night. It feels awesome to get the job done this year.”
Weirton Madonna improves to 15-7 on the season while Wellsville falls to 18-3. The Tigers travel to East Palestine Tuesday night for their final regular-season game before the post-season.