STEUBENVILLE - Basketball games, as Madonna coach George Vargo pointed out, are often won or lost at the foul line.
Catholic Central earned a 60-46 victory over the Blue Dons Thursday because the Crusaders were money from the stripe when it counted.
The "holy war" was played inside the Finnegan Fieldhouse on the Franciscan University of Steubenville campus as part of the sixth-annual Hank Kuzma Community Day.
THROUGH THE LANE — Steubenville Catholic Central’s Ryan Fletcher looks to pass inside to Crusader teammate John Paul Dombrowski during Thursday’s game against Madonna. Central won 60-46 at the Finnegan Fieldhouse on the campus of Fransican University of Steubenville.
-- Matthew Peaslee
Sean Tucker's Crusaders, now 11-5, missed 10 of their 18 attempted free throws. They turned things around in the final frame, going 13 for 15 to complete the season sweep of Madonna. Central pocketed a 60-34 triumph in December.
"I always preach that basketball games are won or lost at the line," Vargo said. "Coach Tucker's team did a great job with its foul shooting tonight. That probably was the difference in us not being able to catch them. They were just excellent from the line when they needed it."
Central canned eight of its 11 first half field goal tries to grab a 25-13 lead. A late 7-0 run helped give the Crusaders the double-digit advantage.
Matt Martello started things with a jumper from the key then Michael Barber got three the old fashion way. He scored two in transition off a nifty up and under move, drew a foul and knocked down the freebie. Michael Manfresca's putback capped the rally.
Central scored eight straight late in the third and went up by 17 (39-22). Madonna, thanks to Ross Comis' four-point play, ended the quarter with a 6-0 run. Comis averages 22 points per outing but was held scoreless until just 42 ticks remained in the quarter.
Madonna's second four-point play, this time by Marcello Biondello, put the score at 41-39. Central responded by scoring eight in a row. Tony Barber accounted for half of the points, getting a deuce off a spin move in transition then hitting two from the stripe.
The Dons would close the gap to 50-44 after Joey Ewusiak went coast to coast but Central went to work from the line to put the victory on ice.
"Going 13 of 15 down the stretch with free throws definitely overcame any of our turnovers and other mistakes," Tucker said.
"Our kids really stepped up and did a great job. They were focused at the line.
"Teams are going to pressure us and we did a good job of taking care of the ball in a lot of incidents. Give Madonna credit, however, they pressured well and forced some turnovers (Central was guilty of 10 second half ball handling miscues).
"That's stuff we will on and continue to get better. It sure makes you feel great, however, when we step up and make foul shots in the fourth quarter."
Central, thanks to hitting five of seven from the floor, led 13-4 after the opening period. The Dons were just two of six and committed four turnovers. In the first half, Madonna tried eight free throws, making just one.
"Tonight, the game was won in the first quarter," Vargo said. "We put ourselves in a whole early. Then we miss seven foul shots.
"We fought back and we fought hard. We made it a good game for the fans at the end."
Tony Barber came off Central's bench to lead his team in scoring with 15. Fletcher finished with 13 and Michael Barber added 10. Brenton Colabella contributed seven.
Comis had 11 to pace the Blue Dons, how 7-3. Nick Mazur scored eight while Nate Guio and Martin recorded seven each.
"Michael Barber played phenomenal defense for us tonight," Tucker said.
As Michael Barber noted Central's defensive focus is always on "taking away their best player."
"Other guys really stepped up defensively," the Crusader point guard said. "They did a great job of boxing out, getting rebounds and limiting them to one shot.
"We did get flustered when they came out pressing, but we settled down and started beating the press. They fouled us and we were able to make our shots."
When it comes to making foul shots late in a game, Fletcher said it's all about settling down.
"You have to calm down, take your time and knock them down," the senior, who grabbed 11 rebounds to complete a double-double, stated. Madonna is a big rival for us, it's always nice to beat them and go out on a high note."
Central is scheduled to visit Strasburg Saturday. The Blue Dons will meet Williamstown in Magnolia on Saturday. That contest will start at 4 p.m.
Catholic Central 60, Madonna 46
Central 13 12 14 21 60
Madonna 4 9 15 18 46
CENTRAL (11-5): M. Barber 4 2-3 10; Colabella 1 5-8 7; T. Barber 5 2-2 15; Rigaud 0 0-0 0; Manfresca 3 1-1 7; Fletcher 2 9-13 13; Martello 1 0-0 2; Dombrowski 2 2-6 6. TOTALS: 18 21-33 60. 3-pointers: T. Barber 3; Rebounds 31 (Fletcher 11, Dombrowski 7); Turnovers 13.
MADONNA (7-3): Biondello 1 1-1 4; Comis 2 5-5-8 11; Guio 3 1-1 7; Antinone 1 0-0 3; J. Ewusiak 1 0-0 2; Retton 1 0-0 2; Bowser 0 0-0 0; Jeter 0 0-2 0; Lyons 1 0-0 2; Silvestri 0 0-0 0; Stakias 0 0-0 0; Martin 3 1-2 7; T. Ewusiak 0 0-1 0; Mazur 2 2-4 8. TOTALS: 15 10-19 46. 3-pointers: Mazur 2; Comis 2; Biondello; Antinone; Rebounds 22 (Comis 5, Bowser 5); Turnovers 9.