WHEELING - On Senior Day at Wheeling Park High School, the Battle of the Patriots turned into a much tougher contest than expected for the host team.
Parkersburg South came to town with a 6-8 record and minus starting senior center Genna Trippett but Coach Scott Stephens' girls played strong on the defensive end and made enough 3-pointers (six) to stay close before the host Patriots finally prevailed by a 63-53 score.
Krista Crawshaw and Alex Franke, Park's only two seniors, were honored prior to tipoff and both made important contributions to the victory, the 16th of the season against two defeats for Coach Meredith Dailer's fourth-ranked West Virginia Class AAA team.
Crawshaw tossed in eight points, grabbed 10 rebounds and turned in a couple of critical defensive plays down the stretch to help blunt South's upset hopes.
Franke came off the bench in the second quarter and scored five points, including a 3-pointer that pushed Wheeling Park's lead back into double figures at 28-17.
Although struggling from the field at times, hitting just 6 of 15 shots, junior all-stater Emily Puskarich scored 11 of her game-high 18 points in the second half to lead Wheeling Park's offense. Kelsi Johnson added 10 points, while Marissa Tucker and Haley Robb provided nine points each.
''It was a struggle at times,'' Dailer said after watching her team fall behind twice in the third quarter. ''We just couldn't quite get in sync. Parkersburg South does a great job of changing defenses and we were never fully comfortable on offense. They wouldn't let us settle in the way we like too and I think it affected both Emily and Haley.
''Nevertheless I am pleased. This was a great win over a great program.''
The homestanding Patriots helped themselves with their own solid play on the defense end and some excellent free-throw shooting that saw Park convert 21 of 27 from the free-throw line.
South was forced into 24 turnovers, including 15 the first half.
''We were changing defenses on them and I think that created some of their turnovers,'' Dailer said. ''It also helped us with our transition game and we were able to get the ball into the paint where we drew a lot of fouls.''
Despite two treys by Parkersburg South's Keya Bartlett and one from Kayleigh Rexroad, Wheeling Park was able to open an 18-13 lead by the end of opening quarter. Puskarich's stop-and-pop trifecta broke the 2-2 tie while Tucker had seven points and two nice assist passes for layins by Johnson during the opening eight minutes.
Franke's basket and 3-pointer, wrapped around a Kasey Williams basket, had the Ohio County Patriots ahead by 11 points but Parkersburg South rallied late in the half on a 3-pointer by Alex Anderson, Rexroad's transition goal and Carmen Cutlip's stickback that cut the lead to 28-26 at the break.
South finally pulled even 35-35 on two Rexroad free throws with 4:51 remaining in the third quarter. The Wood County squad eventually gained leads at 38-37 when Cutlip turned a steal into a basket and finally at 40-39 as Miranda Workman put a teammate's missed shot back up off the glass into the net.
Tucker's steal and feed up floor to Crawshaw for a layup gave Park the lead back to stay at 41-40. Leading 45-43 early in the fourth quarter, the host Patriots got another pullup three from Puskarich. After Bartlett swished a baseline shot for South, Crawshaw drained a pair of free throw, then forced a tieup with the possession arrow favoring Park and she followed that up with an entry pass to Johnson for the layup that extended the lead to 52-45.
Again South battled back to within 52-51 but a Puskarich runner at the three-minute mark, Robb's baseline drive for a basket and Tucker's goal after a turnover gave Park another seven-point advantage, putting the game out of reach.
''We turned the ball over twice as often as they did," Stephens said while shaking his head. ''Park has a very good basketball team and when you give them that many opportunities, you are going to get beat.
''Our 3-point shooting kept us in the game and I thought we rebounded very well. With what we had available for this game, our kids played well. They just did a better job of getting us to play quicker than what we wanted to. Our defense wasn't bad. We were trying to make them extend their offense and it seemed to work a little bit."
Bartlett finished with 11 points and was Parkersburg South's only double-digit scorer. Workman had nine points and seven rebounds, while Cutlip led Parkersburg South underneath the glass by pulling down nine missed shots.