STEUBENVILLE - The defense never rested, the shooters seldom missed and Catholic Central rolled on Friday night inside the packed Mickey Barber Gymnasium.
The Crusaders canned five of their first nine shots to build a lead they never relinquished. Meanwhile, Central's pressure the ball defense held Madonna to just eight field goals. The end result - a 60-34 victory for Sean Tucker's now 4-0 club.
"It was a great team win for our kids," Tucker stated. "One of the things we pride ourselves on is defense and I don't think we can play a better game defensively than we did tonight.
FLOATER — Catholic Central’s Michael Barber hits a floater in the lane during the fourth quarter of Friday’s 60-34 victory over Weirton Madonna. The Blue Dons’ Marcello Biondillo follows the play.
DRIBBLE DRIVE — Weirton Madonna’s Marcello Biondillo drives to the basket against Catholic Central’s Matt Martello during Friday’s 60-34 victory by the Crusaders.
"If you can hold a team like Madonna, as good of a team as they are and as well-coached as they are, to 34 points that speaks volumes about your defense. We made a lot of mistakes offensively but our defense really stepped it up and made our offensive mistakes go away."
Central sprinted out to a 9-0 lead thanks to a pair of Matt Martello triples and three Ryan Fletcher tallies. Martello's conventional three-point play put the Crusaders ahead 15-3 later in the opening period. Martello scored 10 of his game-high 19 points in the opening frame, knocking down three of his four shots from the floor.
The Blue Dons, now 1-1, staggered out of the gate. They were guilty of turnovers on their first four touches and finished the period with eight.
Catholic Central 60, Madonna 34
Weirton Madonna 10 8 9 7 - 34
Catholic Central 18 10 20 12 - 60
MADONNA (1-1): Antinone 0 0-0 0; Biondello 0 0-0 0; Bowser 1 2-2 5; Comis 2 11-14 15; T. Ewusiak 1 2-4 2; Guio 0 0-0 0; Higgins 0 0-0 0; Retton 0 0-0 0; Silvestri 0 0-0 0; Stakias 2 0-0 6; J. Ewusiak 2 0-0 4; Lyons 0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 8 15-20 34. 3-pointers: Stakias 2, Bowser; Rebounds 20 (T. Ewusiak, J. Ewusiak 4); Turnovers 19.
CENTRAL (4-0): M. Barber 3 6-6 13; Colabella 1 0-2 2; T. Barber 1 2-2 4; Rigaud 1 0-0 2; Manfresca 1 0-1 2; Fletcher 5 6-8 16; Fischer 0 0-0 0; Svec 0 0-0 0; Martello 6 3-5 19; Dombrowski 1 0-0 2; Mihalyo 0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 19 17-24 60. 3-pointers: Martello 4, M. Barber; Rebounds 30 (Colabella 7; Dombrowski 6); Turnovers 11; Steals 14.
"Central's defense bothers everyone every night," Madonna's George Vargo said when discussing his team's start. "They're in your face, they play hard and they play physical. They rebound well and run transition well. They do a lot of good things.
"That's what a strong summer program does for you. Coach Tucker gets his team ready in the summer then fine tunes things in the winter."
The Crusaders held a 28-18 lead at the break after shooting 50 percent from the field (nine for 18), Madonna, on the other hand, was just five of 14.
Central, thanks to seven Michael Barber points, outscored Madonna 14-4 to start the third stanza. Tucker's crew went up by 20 when Tony Barber laid one home following a nifty pass from his big brother. Senior John Paul Dombrowski, who finished with three blocks, recorded his only hoop of the evening to put Central ahead 48-27 heading into the fourth.
Madonna, which was guilty of 19 turnovers, did not have a field goal during the final eight minutes and finished eight for 26 from the floor.
"We decided to stick to our guns and play hard core man to man defense against them" Tucker noted. "Our kids were just relentless on defense (Central finished with eight steals). They did a phenomenal job to seal the deal."
Fletcher recorded a double-double for the winners, scoring 16 and hauling down 10 rebounds (the Crusaders outrebounded the Dons 22-20). Michael Barber added 13.
"I can't speak enough about our shooters," Tucker added. "We have some guards who can really shoot the ball. It's been a privilege to watch Matt (Martello) shoot the ball for as many years as I have. Fletcher shoots the ball well as do Michael and Tony. Then Brenton (Colabella) and Manny (Michael Manfresca) shoot it well inside.
"It's just really nice to watch Matt shoot the ball when he is on. When he's off, another guy will step up. It was just a fantastic job by our kids."
Ross Comis had 15 to pace the Dons, who are back in action today, facing Valley at Cameron High School. The tip is set for 6 p.m. George Stakias swished two triples to finish with six.
"Right now our chemistry's bad and our basketball legs are not there, plus we were playing a quality team" Vargo stated. "Central is in rhythm and has its rotation down pat. Coach Tucker always has his team ready. I'm not making any excuses but we are just not ready.
"One game doesn't make a season. We have the re-match in January and we'll see how much improvement we have made in six weeks."
Central is back in action Monday, traveling to Tuscarawas Central Catholic.