WEIRTON - For Madonna to secure a spot in the OVAC Class A tournament, veteran coach George Vargo figured his team needed to win two out of three this week.
The Blue Dons, who led the conference race as of Monday, now have done just that.
A night after whipping Toronto, Vargo's crew returned to the friendly confines of the Dube Dome Thursday and clipped Bridgeport 66-54.
SURROUNDED — Weirton Madonna’s Joey Ewusiak, left, and Nick Mazur surround Bridgeport’s Q.J. Williams in the first half of Thursday’s 66-54 victory by the Blue Dons inside the Dube Dome. Madonna kept its first-place standing in the OVAC?Class 1A rankings.
"This is the kind of game we needed all year," Vargo said. "Coach (Donnie) Cash brought his troops in here and needed a win for the OVAC race (the Bulldogs are fourth in Class 2A) and we needed it just to see how tough we are.
"Our kids played hard, they played the type of basketball we need to play. If we are going to move forward, we need to be physical and smart."
The Blue Dons, now 9-3, led 12-11 after one and 27-21 at the intermission.
Madonna used an 8-0 run early in the third to build a 12-point advantage (38-26). Big man Josh Martin got things started when he scored off an offensive rebound. George Stakias followed with a jumper from close range and freshman Tavon Jeter laid one home after a steal on the defensive end. Fellow freshman Joey Ewusiak capped the spurt with a hoop off glass.
Cash's club wasn't about to go away. Six J.C. Cash tallies (he swished a triple then had a conventional three-point play) along with trifectas from Bailey McGrath and Koty Seevers pulled the Bulldogs to within four (42-38). Jeter went one for two from the line and Bridgeport big man Parker Dyson scored from the paint and it was 43-40.
Stakias put Madonna ahead 46-40 heading into the fourth when he got three the old-fashioned way at the buzzer.
McGrath connected from long range to open the fourth and Q.J. Williams, hampered by early foul troubles, followed with a jumper to make it 46-45. That 5-0 run prompted Vargo to take a timeout.
Madonna came off the bench and rattled off nine straight points to put the game away. J. Ewusiak accounted for four and Will Bowser drained a triple. The Dons hit five of their last six free throws in gaining revenge for a 57-55 setback at Bridgeport back in December.
"Basketball is a game of runs," Vargo pointed out. "They got their runs and we got a couple. We played hard tonight and we played physical. Our guards took care of the ball and we took shot good shots.
"During the last five minutes, we played good defense. They were hitting some threes on us then we went to a half court man defense and were able to shut them down."
J. Ewusiak led Madonna in scoring with 13. Ross Comis added 12 (seven coming in the final stanza) and Martin 10.
The Blue Dons hauled down 44 rebounds compared to 30 for the Dogs. Martin recorded a double-double by collaring 15 boards. Comis had 10 to go along with five assists and four steals.
"If Martin can score inside, our guards can shoot well, we can make foul shots and continue to play good defense, we'll see what we're made of," Vargo noted.
Williams finished with 16 (he had 10 in the fourth) to lead Bridgeport, now 9-6. Cash netted 11, McGrath 10 and Seevers 9, all coming via the three.
"Down the stretch, they got a ton of second opportunities which killed us," Cash said. "Comis was getting his own rebounds and their big kid hurt us inside.
"We had too many mental breakdowns defensively and turnovers really hurt us in the first half (the Bulldogs were guilty of 11 miscues). It was 27-21 at the half and it could easily have been tied or maybe we're down one without those turnovers."
Bridgeport is back in action tonight, hosting Frontier.
"We're in a battle for the OVACs," Cash stated. "I told the kids this time of year there is no reason to pout. We play today and we have to refocus. They beat us earlier in the season and we didn't play well at all down at their place."
Madonna will entertain Wheeling Central Saturday.
"This place should be jamming Saturday," Vargo said. "It's a good rivalry. When Wheeling Central and Madonna get together, all kind of things happen. They have a great basketball team."
NOTES: Prior to the game, Madonna presented the Juice Man award to Steve Magnone. The award is named for Steve Dorich, who served for 20 years as manager for the boys and girls basketball teams. Magnone volunteers his time to serve as statistician for Madonna's football and basketball programs.
In addition, Madonna presented a check to the Weirton Bread Basket. Vargo noted the check represented partial proceeds from last week's game with Catholic Central held at the Franciscan University of Steubenville.
"Thanks to our principal, athletic director, Franciscan and Catholic Central, we were able to make a donation on this side of the river," Vargo explained. "Next year, coach (Sean) Tucker will be able to make a donation on his side of the river."
Madonna 66, Bridgeport 54
Bridgeport 11 10 19 14 - 54
Madonna 12 15 19 20 - 66
BRIDGEPORT (9-6): Seevers 3 0-0 9; Cash 4 2-3 11; McGrath 3 1-2 10; Dolzuta 0 0-0 0; Williams 8 0-1 16; Pyatt 0 0-0 0; Dyson 3 0-0 6; Sieber 1 0-2 2. TOTALS: 22 3-8 54. 3-pointers: McGrath 3; Seevers 3; Cash; Rebounds: 30 (Williams 6, Dyson 6); Turnovers: 15.
MADONNA (9-3): Biondello 0 0-0 0; Comis 3 5-5 12; Guio 2 0-0 4; J. Ewusiak 6 0-0 13; T. Ewusiak 2 2-2 6; Retton 0 0-0 0; Bowser 2 1-2 5; Mazur 2 0-0 4; Shreve 0 0-0 0; Stakias 2 1-2 5; Martin 5 0-2 10; Jeter 2 2-5 6. TOTALS: 26 11-19 66. 3-pointers: J. Ewusiak, Bowser, Comis; Rebounds 44 (Martin 15, Comis 10); Turnovers 14.