MORGANTOWN — Despite numerous injuries, a size disadvantage and fierce competition, No. 7 Trinity Christian fought valiantly and took No. 1 Wheeling Central Catholic down to the wire Jan. 31.
In all, it took regulation plus extra time to decide an outcome, but it was the more experienced Knights, led by brothers Brent and Brayden Price, who outlasted hosts Trinity,
80-76, in overtime.
“We talked all week about how this was a pretty special night here, and not to play with emotion, but to play with passion for the game of basketball,” Trinity head coach John Fowkes said. “I think they’ve finally got the meaning of what I mean when I say to play with passion.”
Despite the loss, the Warriors showed exceptional energy on the court, outhustling their opponents at many points, fighting for and pulling away loose balls, and giving their all in a gutsy, thrilling matchup.
“We dug deep and showed what we can be,” Fowkes said. “I think we can make it to Charleston and make some serious noise. We proved tonight that we can play with the best in the state.”
Fowkes attributes his squad’s downfall to a lack of big game, varsity experience on part of his kids.
“I think their experience got us a little bit. Hats off to Brent (Price) and Owen (Gainer), they kept plugging and plugging away,” Fowkes said. “That’s a great basketball team down there, but I’m going to tell you right now, I don’t think we’re far behind them.”
The Warriors were carried by an incredulous effort from their post, as big men senior Jo Zini and junior Daniel Woods kept the taller Knights players off the boards all night, forcing a physical battle underneath from buzzer to buzzer while combining for 46 points.
“Throughout practice, throughout the season, coach has been telling us, feed each other the ball, work it high-low, and you guys are going to get easy buckets,” said Zini, who paced Trinity with 24 points. “If they collapse on him, I’ll be open for the dump, and if they collapse on me, he’ll be open for the dump.
“We did a great job of that tonight, and our guards did a nice job of cutting off of us to get baskets tonight too.”
Zini also provided a spark of leadership for the Warriors, stepping up in the absence of floor general and starting point guard junior Caleb Jenkins to commandeer his teammates and provide a lift on possessions when Trinity needed a big play.
“We knew Caleb was down, and coach came to me on Monday and said, we’re going to need you at the one a little, we’re going to need you as a floor general,” Zini said. “I was just able to make the right reads.”
Junior point guard Josh Hart, filling in for Jenkins in the starting five, also proved a leader on the hardwood, scoring baskets in clutch time for the Warriors and helping Zini lead from the backcourt.
“Josh hasn’t had big minutes at all, and he ran the show,” Fowkes said. “He was a floor general, typically he’s a nervous type of kid, but there were no nerves. He grew up tonight.”
Even in losing form, Trinity showed it can compete with the big boys in Class A with their performance, which is indicative of the consistent improvement they have shown since game one.
“I think they’ve become a family,” Fowkes said. “We’re starting to build something special here, and I think they finally understand what it’s all about. They’re a great group of kids.”
Trinity moves to 10-4 with the loss, and will return to action Feb. 3 as they host Greater Beckley Christian. Tip-off is scheduled for 1 p.m.