WHEELING - It was somewhat of a new start for the Wheeling Park basketball team Tuesday night.
The Patriots played host to the Brooke Bruins in the first round of the OVAC tournament, but in this game, and all remaining games this season for that matter, Park had to take the court without Luke Saseen, the team's lone senior, who is undergoing shoulder surgery.
The Patriots didn't seem to miss him, though, as they topped Brooke, 72-52, to clinch a spot in the Class 5A title game Saturday against Morgantown.
''It was our first game without Luke, so the dynamics were a little bit different,'' Park coach Michael Jebbia said. ''Especially late in the game, Luke keeps us steady out there with his ball handling, so other guys were in different situations and we're going to have to work through that.
''I heard Arizona coach Sean Miller say (Monday) after they lost a key player, 'The hottest heat forges the strongest steel.' I thought that was a good phrase by him so I copied it down into my notebook.''
Those other guys - junior Chalmer Moffett and sophomores Elijah Bell and Savion Johnson - were ready to answer the bell.
Moffett, who made his first career start, finished with seven points and seven rebounds, while Johnson ended with eight points, five rebounds and two steals in 16 minutes of action.
''Everyone knows that (Johnson is) probably going to be the best football player in the state the next two years, but he helps us,'' Jebbia said. ''He helps us immensely with his strength, his hustle and his defense. He's a good teammate, too. At (5-foot-11, 215-pounds) he's a strong kid. He also understands that his role is going to increase. He's going to start coming in as the seventh man.''
While Moffett, Bell and Johnson were solid in their expanded roles, it was junior Toddy Goodwin-Rowe who was the star of the show as he finished with a game-high 21 points on an 8 of 10 showing from the floor.
''Toddy was really super (Tuesday),'' Jebbia pointed out. ''He's been playing well. He's realizing at the AAA level, he's not going to be able to get to the rim. Where he was, he was able to get to the rim a lot. Now, he's got to get on two feet down and shoot those floaters. He just played a heckuva basketball game for us.''
It was a Goodwin-Rowe 3-pointer that put the Patriots (12-4) ahead 19-6 with 1:30 remaining in the first quarter.
Park connected on 7 of its first 14 shots compared the Bruins (8-7), who only hit 4 of their first 13.
''Our kids were a little nervous for whatever reason,'' Brooke coach Dave Reitter said. ''I don't think we took the shot selection we worked on at all.''
The Bruins started the game 0 of 7 with a lot of their misses coming off long 3-point attempts.
''We keep talking about that all the time,'' Reitter said. ''What happens is, we have kids who want things to go right, so (they say) I'll do it. Maybe instead of taking the shot, how about running some offense and getting someone else in the right spot.''
Brooke was able to cut a 17-point halftime deficit to 11 at 51-40 on a Russell Schwertfeger jumper, but Ryan Reinbeau, who finished with 16 points, knocked down a 3 to extend Park's advantage to 56-42.
''We just were never able to cut it under 10,'' Reitter said. ''You never know what's going to happen if you get it there. If you look at our shot selection, it was mostly in the lane and in the paint. We were taking smarter shots.''
The problem was, Park never got out of its rhythm.
''I thought we did a nice job in the fourth,'' Jebbia said. ''Brooke started to chip away at our lead in the third and early fourth, but we took some quick shots, ran some clock, got some layups and got some stops, too. I tell you Thomas Cole just keeps his hands on a lot of balls. He's active, he's big and I thought we did the best job we can on him.''
Cole, the Bruins 6-5 sophomore center, finished with 12 points and eight rebounds, while Aquil Dameron added 11 points and seven assists. Senior Ethan Sole chipped in 13 points coming off the bench for Brooke.
Phil Bledsoe had 16 boards and 15 points for Park, marking the 12th time this season the sophomore finished with a double-double.
Wheeling Park 72, Brooke 52
Brooke 8 18 18 8 - 52
Wheeling Park 22 21 15 14 - 72
BROOKE: Cole 6 0-3 12; Green 1 1-1 3; Dameron 4 202 11; Schwertfeger 4 0-2 9; Sole 6 0-2 13; Barnhart 1 2-2 4. Totals: 22 5-12 52. 3-pointers: Dameron, Schwertfeger, Sole.
WHEELING?PARK: Reinbeau 7 0-2 16; Smith 0 0-0 0; Bell 2 1-3 5; Johnson 2 4-8 8; Goodwin-Rowe 8 4-4 21; Bledsoe 5 5-7 15; Moffett 3 1-2 7. Totals: 27 15-26 72. 3-pointers: Reinbeau 2, Goodwin-Rowe.