Wheeling Central opens the season with Authority Against Magnolia | News, Sports, Work

Wheeling Central’s Ellie Sancombe goes up for a floater in motion against the Magnolia Blue Eagles during the Maroon Knights’ season opener Saturday at coach Skip Prosser Court, a 95-65 victory. Sancombe scored 27 points to lead the team.

WHEELING – In their first game of the season, Wheeling Central head coach Mel Stevens expected some nerves on opening night, but he also expected his team’s strengths to shine.

“I thought we did some things well,” Stevens said. “I thought we came out in transition and ran well, executing in the half court at times.

“Defensively there were times when we had good defensive possessions and sometimes we didn’t – you kind of expect that in your first game. We’ve had two fights, but still, when the lights are on and everyone’s here, it’s a little bit different.”

The good outweighed the bad by a wide margin Saturday night on Coach Skip Prosser Court as the Maroon Knights (1-0) cruised to a 95-65 victory over the Magnolia Blue Eagles (0-2).

Eli Sancombe scored 27 while Jeremy Ratcliffe scored 21 as the offense came out of the gate humming to start the 2023-24 season.

The stat sheet didn’t reveal any growth struggles for Wheeling Central, which had no seniors on its team last year and returns its entire squad. The Maroon Knights were in sync, racking up 23 assists on 37 field goals.

“That’s kind of a trademark of these guys, for the most part they’re very unselfish and they don’t care who scores points, they just want us to score points,” Stevens said. “I thought we forced a few shots, but for the most part we did a really good job of making that extra pass and getting the ball to guys in a position where they could score.”

Quinton Burlenski (seven assists, 13 points) and Sancombe (six assists) led Wheeling Central in the category.

I thought Quinton did a really good job, him and Troy [Anthony] both to distribute the ball,” Stevens said. “Both of them can score, but I think when there were opportunities to give the ball to others in scoring positions, I thought they did.”

Magnolia stayed even with Wheeling Central through one quarter, trailing 27-20 after the first frame, with the Blue Eagles’ Hayden Pyles recording his 1,000th point of the period. Pyles finished with 24 points, four rebounds and four steals on the day.

Sancombe scored 11 points in the quarter and Ratcliffe scored 10, getting off to a fast start Saturday.

“Eli is very good with the ball,” Stevens said. “He’s big enough and good enough to be able to shoot the perimeter and get into the paint. Jeremy, he really did well in transition and that’s where he earned a lot of his points. The rebound will be his thing. I think Max Olejash did a great job rebounding as well.”

Ratcliffe grabbed eight rebounds, while Oleyash secured nine blocks. Sancombe had six rebounds to round out a well-rounded stat line that also included three steals.

The Knights extended their lead in the second quarter, leading 50-34 at halftime, and the Blue Eagles never got closer than 13 the rest of the way.

A close game turned ugly as Magnolia’s offense ebbed and flowed while Wheeling scored with remarkable consistency from quarter to quarter. The Knights scored 27 in the first quarter, 23 in the second, 22 in the third and 23 in the fourth.

Magnolia shot 8/18 from the foul line, something head coach Dave Tallman identified as a problem after the game.

“I thought free-throw shooting was killing us in crucial moments, and I don’t understand it because we shoot pretty well in practice,” he said. “I don’t know what the rebounding stats were, but we got killed at Ritchie and I thought we did a little better tonight. Central has a really good basketball team, we tried everything we could to stop them, they shoot the ball extremely well in their gym.”

Wheeling Central made eight 3-pointers, led by four from Sancomb, three in the first quarter alone. Magnolia hit five 3-pointers, three from the hands of Kingston Kristen.

Pyles’ 24 was followed by Kristen with 17 and Hunter Oates with eight.

11 Knights scored for Wheeling Central on Saturday, with the bench players coming into their own in the fourth quarter, when the game was quite active.

Wheeling Central Catholic plays Trinity Christian on Tuesday, while Magnolia is scheduled to face John Marshall also on Tuesday.

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