SUMMERSVILLE — As tournament play progresses, the importance of experience increases exponentially.

Banking on some of that know-how Wednesday night, Charleston Catholic kept alive its aspirations for a potential third consecutive single-A state basketball title.

The Irish (18-6) started slowly but did enough to gain control at the end of the first half en route to a 44-41 defeat of the Midland Trail Patriots in the Class A Region 5 championship at the Summersville Arena.

Although not graybeards basketball-wise by any stretch of the imagination, seniors Andrew Cassis and Sean Riley gave Catholic the experience and, subsequently, the spark it needed. After Midland Trail followed a trio of long-range three-pointers by Dustin Nickell to a 16-7 cushion in the early stages of the second period, Catholic settled in.

Riley converted a foul line jumper with 6:09 to go in the second to initiate a surge that left the Irish holding a 22-21 halftime lead. Also during the crucial spurt, Cassis scored on a putback and converted two straight drives, the latter two plays in the final 1:38 of the half, and Riley supplied a three-point play.

On the evening, Riley scored a team-high 14 points and Cassis was right behind him with 13.

“We had some early-game nerves,” Catholic coach Bill McClanahan said. “Once we settled down, we started doing a little better.

“Andrew and Sean are the two that played the most minutes last year. Tonight, they showed the most maturity when things got tough.”

Midland Trail (18-6) had hoped to advance to the state tournament for the first time since a pair of John Flournoy-coached teams made trips in 1995-96 and 1996-97, but it wasn’t to be. A cold shooting night (16-of-48) didn’t help matters.

“We got out of sync and just couldn’t get the ball in the basket,” coach Greg Crist said. “We told the kids that 50 points would win the game.

“Unfortunately, we didn’t get there.”

As Catholic committed seven fourth-quarter turnovers, Midland Trail didn’t do much to take advantage, having several empty possessions during two scoreless stretches totaling over four minutes.

“They played good defense; give them credit,” Crist said. “We went a little haywire on offense, and we had a spell where we couldn’t score.

“The same thing happened to us last year.”

The Irish owned a 33-28 lead after three quarters and kept the Patriots at arm’s length the rest of the way.

Nickell hit an awkward jumper from just inside the foul line to pull his team to within 39-37 with 55.5 ticks left, but Matt Goolsby responded with a deuce for the Irish off a Sam Wood assist to move the lead back out to four, 41-37.

Riley then canned a pair of charity tosses following a Nickell technical to make it 43-37 with 26.1 seconds to go, and Cassis sank a free throw after being fouled on the ensuing inbound play to hike the lead to seven. Trail got buckets from Tommy Stull and J.D. Lesher in the frantic final seconds, but the Patriots still fell short.

“Midland Trail played hard. They’re a good basketball team,” McClanahan said. “They’re going to be better than two or three of the teams that will be in Charleston for the state tournament.”

Nickell finished with 15 for Trail, and Stull added 12.

The state tournament pairings will be announced later this week.

— E-mail: skeenan@

Charleston Catholic (18-6)

Dominic Tallarico 1 0-0 2, Corey Bonasso 1 0-0 2, Tommy Dexter 0 0-0 0, Andrew Cassis 6 1-2 13, Matt Goolsby 2 0-0 5, John Baird 0 0-0 0, Sam Wood 3 2-3 8, Stephen Carey 0 0-0 0, Sean Riley 4 6-8 14. Totals: 17 9-13 44.

Midland Trail (18-6)

Dustin Nickell 5 1-2 15, Tommy Stull 6 0-0 12, Josh Greene 2 1-2 5, J.D. Lesher 2 0-0 4, Justin Harrison 1 3-4 5, Ryan Bowyer 0 0-0 0, Nathan Syner 0 0-0 0, Joey Fox 0 0-0 0. Totals: 16 5-8 41.

CC 9 13 11 11 — 44

MT 13 8 7 13 — 41

Three-point goals: CC: 1 (Goolsby); MT: 4 (Nickell 4); Fouled out: none.

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