Mid-Suburban League boys basketball victories aren't easy to come by. Even with Jeremy Stephani's 39-point effort, Wheeling had to endure the final agonizing seconds as two Hersey attempts to tie the game and force overtime bounced away.
The 61-58 victory snapped a 3-game losing skid for the Wildcats, who take a 6-5 record (2-1 in the MSL East) into their Hardwood Classic on Monday night.
In setting what is believed to be a school record, Stephani surpassed his previous best 38-point performance in the season opener against Leyden. He was 13-of-20 from the field, including 6-of-9 from behind the arc.
"Every team we play knows he's the guy we go to," Wheeling coach Anthony Como said. "The screeners did a better job of getting him open.
"What made this good was we've had a tough week and a half," Como said. "We lost 3 in a row, and this is a team we haven't beaten since 2007 or 2008."
"I got in a good rhythm, and the team did a great job of screening," said Stephani, a four-year varsity starter. "This win picked up our morale. We had a little slump, and this does a lot for us going into the tournament."
One of 3 3-point baskets in the fourth quarter by Alex Mueller gave Hersey (3-6, 0-3) its first lead since the opening seconds of the game, 51-49, with 3:48 left. Wheeling's Jake Jordan and Hersey's Tyndale Dahnweih traded baskets for Hersey's last lead.
Stephani hit a pair of 3s, the last coming at the 2:05 mark to give Wheeling a 57-53 lead. Mike Fuerst (14 points) converted a 3-point play with 1:50 left to cut the lead to 1.
Stephani converted 4 free throws, the last with 41.9 seconds left, and Mueller (19 points) scored with 21.9 seconds remaining to cut the lead to 61-58.
Hersey had a chance to tie the game after a Wheeling turnover, but 3-point attempts by Mueller and Payton Haas were unsuccessful.
"There were some breakdowns," Hersey coach Steve Messer said. "We can't let scorers like that get easy ones.
"In close games like that, a team almost always scores after an offensive rebound," Messer said. "That was the key. We had a couple of mental lapses, a lack of execution."