GRAFTON— After building a second quarter, 11-point advantage against the No. 4 Wheeling Central Catholic Maroon Knights, the Grafton Bearcats lost the handle during a 10-2 run to be knock out of state play.
On Wednesday, the No. 5 seeded Bearcats entered a late-night tip down in Charleston during the Class AAA quarterfinals, jumping out to an early 18-10 lead going into the second quarter.
Grafton kept up their momentum, going up by 11 in the frame, before the half, when Bearcat Tanner Moats connected with the bottom of the net from behind the arc. Moats’ efforts however were answered by Maroon Knight, Quinton Burlenski.
Burlenski drained two from deep before going into the break, cutting the deficit to six, with the Bearcats out in front, 32-26.
Grafton managed to maintain a comfortable lead through the third, unfortunately as time wore on, the Bearcats wore out, and the Maroon Knights were able to take advantage.
Up 43-33 at the three-minute mark of the third, Burlenski would knock down a three that would spark a 10-2 run for Central. The run allowed the Maroon Knights to chip away at the Bearcats’ lead as they rallied back within two.
Over the remaining minute of the third and into the fourth, Grafton struggled around the rim, and was overcome by the fast-paced offense, as the Knights went on to score 17 unanswered points.
The Bearcats’ first points of the final frame wouldn’t come until inside the four-minute mark, when Senior Ryan Maier was able to break into the paint and lay one in.
Maier’s layup energized his team to a 7-0 run to bring them back within eight.
However vigilant the Grafton efforts seemed to be, Central did not go long without formulating a response to the run.
Over the final minutes of the contest, the Maroon Knights would shoot better than 80 percent from the free throw line and was able to secure the 73-63 victory. Central moved on to play No. 1 Shady Spring in the Class AAA semifinals last night.
Maier led Grafton’s scoring with 21, while Moats added 15 and Kaden Delaney recorded 11.
And while the Cats were sent home without the outcome they were hoping for, they were welcomed back the same way they were sent off; with love and support from the entire community, as loss doesn’t come close to defining the successful season they had.
Fans and community supporters instantly took to social media in support of the Bearcat program, coaches and players, encouraging them and congratulating them on the season they had yielded, many commenting on the school pride the team had filled them with through the 2021-22 term.
Grafton’s season started back in December, with wins over Liberty and Trinity to be named Sam Bord Memorial Tournament Champions.
After being handed back-to-back losses from East Fairmont and Philip Barbour, who the Bearcats would later get redemption over, Grafton went on a six-game winning streak beating Hampshire High, Notre Dame, Lewis County, Robert C. Bryd, Elkins High and Preston High Schools.
A trip to Chapmanville Regional High School ended in an overtime loss that snapped Grafton’s streak. Just days later, the Cats found themselves down again as they faced then No.3 Fairmont Senior and came up short.
As the season progressed, Grafton would go on two more winning streaks of four or more and be one of only three teams to defeat the Polar Bears.
Grafton finishes the season with an 18-8 record, winning by an average of 20.5 points per game, where their average defeat was just by 6.3 points.
The season also saw some Bearcats reach personal milestones as Maier would score his 1,000th career point, during a road game against Preston.
Maier is one of six seniors that the program will be bidding a bittersweet farewell, as he along with, Moats, James Helmondollar, Delaney, Matthew Helmondollar and Dante Owens have concluded their high school careers.
The staff of the Mountain Statesman would like to congratulate our Bearcats on an outstanding season.