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Doddridge tops Wheeling Central

by Mike Nutter

SPORTS WRITER

CHARLESTON -- After a first half of nearly flawless basketball, Doddridge County came out for a decidedly less energized second half.

The Bulldogs, however, survived and knocked off a state tournament perennial contender.

Despite sputtering for much of the second half --Doddridge shot just three of 18 from the field and committed 13 turnovers, including five on consecutive possessions -- the Bulldogs weathered a final Wheeling Central rally to advance to the Class A boys basketball state semifinals with a 48-43 win.

"It seems like we always have a stretch in the third and fourth quarter where we don't take care of the ball," Doddridge County coach Dan McConnell said. "It happened again tonight, but these kids kept their composure and hit their free throws when they had to."

Trailing 42-33 heading into the fourth quarter, Wheeling Central (17-8) capitalized on five straight Doddridge County turnovers and used a 7-1 run to start the final quarter to cut the lead to three on a pair of free throws by Clayton Fitzsimmons.

Despite connecting on only one attempt from the floor in the final quarter, the Bulldogs hit six of nine free throws to secure the win. Brad Wilt's pair with 14 seconds to play secured the win.

Wilt came off of the bench to shoot in place of starting center Rick Hamilton, who injured his ankle on the play and was forced to leave the game.

"Basically, I just decided to go in and put our team up a little more," Wilt said. "I really wasn't thinking about the pressure at the time."

For the entire game, Wilt was a spark for the Bulldogs. The sophomore reserve forward came off the bench to score a season-high 16 points and grab five rebounds.

"Brad's a solid contributor," McConnell said. "He's got a level head and makes very good decisions with the ball. He always plays hard, and to tell you the truth, I didn't know he had 16 points until I looked at the stat sheet."

Junior point guard Chris Gum added seven points for Doddridge County, while Hamilton added six points and eight rebounds.

Trailing 13-11 with 43 seconds left in the first quarter, Wilt's layup ignited a 15-0 run and gave the Bulldogs a 26-13 lead with 4:18 left in the first half.

Wheeling Central's Chris Morgan buried both ends of a one-and-one to cut the deficit to 30-23 with 27.8 seconds remaining in the second quarter, but Hamilton's short jumper just before the buzzer to extend the lead.

"We knew what kind of team (Doddridge County) had," Wheeling Central coach Joel Nau said. "We knew they were athletic, could put the ball on the floor and play good defense. They were just a little better than I thought they would be. They played very good defense and executed extremely well."

Morgan led all scorers with 18 points, while Fitzsimmons followed with 10 points.

Doddridge (13-12) plays Marsh Fork at 10 a.m. today. Marsh Fork defeated Paw Paw, 77-57.

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