Central Catholic wins black-and-blue battle with Butler

Wednesday, February 7, 2024 | 12:42 AM

There were two separate stoppages to clean blood off the court at Central Catholic’s Alumni Hall on Tuesday night, showing just how rough a section game between Central and Butler can get.

Central Catholic’s Bradley Gompers left for a short while with a bloodied nose, and Butler leading scorer Braylon Littlejohn missed the entire second half after suffering a gash above his right eye. But after 32 minutes of bumps, bruises and brute-force basketball, Central Catholic emerged with a 57-48 victory over Butler thanks to a hard-fought effort by the Vikings’ defense in the fourth quarter.

“That was one of the more physical games I’ve ever played in,” said Central Catholic senior Payton Wehner, a college football recruit who scored 10 of his game-high 17 points after halftime.

But neither team was too surprised by the physical style, since that’s typical of their section battles — especially in Central Catholic’s cozy gym.

“We wanted to bring that physicality and bring the toughness,” Wehner said. “We thought that if we were the tougher team, we’d come out with a ‘W.’”

There weren’t necessarily an excessive number of fouls — the teams combined for 29 — but most rebounds, loose balls and drives to the basket were contested. Central Catholic attempted only eight free throws and Butler shot seven.

“For the last four or five years now, any time Butler and Central get together, it’s going to be a bloodbath,” Central Catholic coach Brian Urso said. “Both teams bring an edge, a toughness. They both bring in a community that supports that style of play, as well. And both teams have a respect about each other to say, ‘Hey, let’s compete as hard as possible.’”

The win kept No. 4 Central Catholic (12-8, 7-2) in the hunt for a Section 1-6A title. The Vikings visit No. 5 North Allegheny (10-11, 7-2) on Friday and the winner is the outright section champion.

Butler (15-5, 5-4) has already clinched a playoff spot and hosts Pine-Richland in the section finale Friday.

“When you come in here, it’s always physical,” Butler coach Matt Clement said. “That’s Central Catholic. That’s how they play. They do a good job of it. If you can’t match their physicality, then they’re going to beat you by 30. Unfortunately, that’s happened to us a couple of times.

“I was impressed with how we matched their physicality. It’s just a shame when your guy goes down. It puts everybody else in a tough spot.”

Tuesday’s win didn’t come easy for Central Catholic. The Vikings trailed early in the third quarter and entered the fourth with a slim 44-42 edge.

But Central Catholic’s defense held Butler to only two baskets in the fourth quarter — a pair of 3-pointers by senior Ayden Davis — as the Golden Tornado combined went 2 for 13 from the field in the closing minutes. Butler also was hurt by a couple of late turnovers on inbound passes that Central Catholic converted into quick points.

That let the Vikings win the fourth quarter, 13-6.

“It was about defense and toughness and physicality and slowing Butler down,” Urso said. “The goal was to hold them to 50 and that’s what we did.”

Donovan Carney led Butler with 13 points and Davis had 11. Coleton Welter had 16 rebounds in a game where the teams combined for 72 missed shots.

Gompers had 12 rebounds for Central.

“The guys didn’t fold up tent whenever Braylon got hurt,” Clement said. “I give them a lot of credit. They played really hard. It’s a shame that he got hurt because I think it would’ve been a pretty good finish to this game.”

A 21-point scorer on average, Littlejohn was injured early in the second quarter when he was driving for a baseline layup, collided with an opponent and hit his face on the floor after falling awkwardly.

Butler’s medical team closed the gash in his eyebrow but recommended he sit out the second half, Clement said. The senior had 10 points and eight rebounds when he left the game.

“They stitched him up, and out of precaution they can’t let him go back in because he hit his head,” Clement said. “He was begging to go back in, he was arguing to go back in, but as a coach, I’ve got to trust the doctors.”

His exit certainly had an impact. Butler shot only 31% overall from the field but did make nine attempts from 3-point range. Carney and Davis had three 3s each. Central Catholic shot 42% from the field with four 3s.

Butler had started the game with a 7-0 run, the largest lead for either team until the fourth quarter. But the teams were tied at 11 after the first quarter and Butler led 25-24 at half.

After a couple of lead changes after halftime, Central Catholic grabbed the lead for good in the middle of the third with a 7-0 run that included a go-ahead layup by Enzo Khalil, a free throw by Vernon Settles and four points from Wehner to lead 38-34.

Butler entered the fourth quarter trailing only 44-42 and had some momentum after a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Davis. But a jumper by Wehner opened the fourth-quarter scoring before teammates Settles and Calvin Vento combined for another quick 7-0 run to lead 53-45.

In a tense finish, Wehner’s experience and toughness were key, said Urso, pointing out that the senior guard is the only contributor back from last year’s WPIAL championship team.

“His comfort level rose to a different level,” Urso said. “He got some leak-out layups, he made free throws, he talked on defense. I told him at halftime, it was going to be up to him to propel us to a huge victory and he took the challenge.”

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at charlan@triblive.com.

Tags: ,

More Basketball

Hampton basketball readies for rare coaching search
Hall of fame basketball coach Joe Lafko steps down at Hampton
Corey Dotchin steps down as Highlands boys basketball coach
PIAA taking bids to host basketball championships
Basketball coach Rob Niederberger, who lifted Shaler from last place to WPIAL contender, resigns