MHS knocks off Wheeling Park for trip to state

MOUNDSVILLE — Three days before the biggest game of the season, which for Morgantown High was the second straight game to carry that name, the Mohigans discovered they’d be without their leading scorer for a violation of team rules.
Gone was J.T. Lewis, his 11.4 points per game and his critical ability to drive to the basket and score in traffic. Gone was so much of the momentum MHS had accrued during the seven-game winning streak it carried into Tuesday’s Class AAA Region I final against Wheeling Park.
Or so it seemed, because in practice Monday, Elliott Law, the one who would assume the role vacated by Lewis, gave his teammates reason to believe.
“Elliott started to take the ball to the basket,” point guard Craig Carey said. “We knew we wouldn’t have to look for someone to score like J.T. does for us. We could still play our game.”
With Lewis’ style replaced, it was then understood someone would have to replace the scoring. The message reached Jay Fletcher.
“Everyone was telling me I was the player to be,” Fletcher said. “I knew I had to look for my shots more.”
A day later, it went according to plan. Law scored all of his 10 points in the first half as MHS took a 14-point halftime lead and Fletcher finished with a gamehigh 18 points. Their productivity allowed Carey and Taylor Dunn to play within their comfort zones as the Mohigans advanced to the state tournament with a 64-53 victory at the Moundsville Fieldhouse.
“I didn’t see this coming,” said Fletcher. “I wasn’t really sure we’d get past University. They’d beat us twice in the regular season and everyone said they were better than us.”
Lewis had scored 11 points in beating UHS in the sectional last week, but Law had company in replacing the scoring against the Patriots. Carey scored 16 points — nearly 12 above his average — and had three three-point plays as he adjusted to Wheeling Park’s aggressive defense.
“They were picking me up full-court and once I got past half-court they didn’t back off at all,” he said. “I couldn’t get my 3-point shot or my jump shots, so I decided I had to get to the hole and hope to score or get fouled, which I did. That gave me a lot of confidence.”
Fletcher, who had been averaging 7.6 points, went well above his average for a second straight game. He had 17 points against UHS.
“It just happens,” he said.
The Mohigans (18-6) won a regional title for the sixth time this decade and return to the state tournament for the first time since 2005. They’ve won 10 of 11.
“I didn’t expect us to be playing this good,” Carey said. “I thought maybe [the state tournament] could happen because I thought we could be pretty good, but we’re playing really well right now. Our team chemistry is really good. Everyone is hitting shots, playing defense and playing together.”
MHS pulled away in the second quarter even though the team didn’t substitute anyone in the final 7:15 of the half and Carey watched from the bench. Still, it won the quarter 17-3 and didn’t allow a basket. Wheeling Park
(16-8) sensed trouble as Fletcher rebounded a missed shot, hit a streaking Law with a pass and cheered as Law found Dunn for a layup. The Patriots called timeout as the Mohigans led 20-12. They pushed the lead to 28-14 at the half.
“We got it rolling in the second quarter, so we wanted to keep it going,” MHS coach Tom Yester said of not subbing despite being short one player. “Then we didn’t do very well at the start fo the third quarter, so we switched and that’s when Craig Carey caught for us.”
The Patriots rallied in the third quarter behind Scott Safcsak, who hit two 3-pointers and scored nine unanswered points to bring his team within five points, 34-29, with less than a minute remaining. Wheeling Park looked to get closer, stealing a pass and heading toward its basket, only for Carey to sneak in for steal of his own and race the other way for a basket and the three-point play. It was his second threepoint play of the quarter.
“That shifted everything,” he said.
Safcsak made two free throws with 17 seconds to go and MHS looked for the last shot, which it got when Dunn drove the baseline, then pivoted toward the foul line and found Fletcher for an open 3 and a 40-31 lead.
“We kept fighting and got it where we wanted,” Wheeling Park coach Michael Jebbia said, “but that took the wind out of us.”
The Patriots made one final push as a basket by Mike Lake cut MHS’s lead to 48-43, but Fletcher broke free for a layup, then made a key save of an errant pass from Carey and beat the pursuing defense for a three-point play and a 53-43 lead.
“I was always taught to stay confident,” he said, “never get nervous or let the game get to you.”
Yester said Lewis could return to the MHS team for the state tournament providing he doesn’t violate any more team rules.