By NICK BEDWAY
For The Intelligencer
WHEELING - It took double overtime for the Wheeling Central girls' basketball team to defeat city rival Wheeling Park in their first meeting of the 2011-2012 season on the home boards of the Patriots.
Wheeling Central’s Emily Bucon (25) drives past Park’s Marissa Tucker on Tuesday.
Photo by Jim Elliott
Tuesday night, playing in front of an excited, near-packed house at the Maroon Knights' gym on 13th Street, Coach Penn Kurtz's club led from wire-to-wire in knocking off West Virginia's No. 3-ranked Class AAA power by a 52-44 score.
The season sweep gave Wheeling Central, ranked No. 1 in the Class A division, its 15th victory in 18 starts. Wheeling Park stands at 16-3 heading into next week's OVAC Tournament.
Colleen McCormick scored 18 points and collected 10 rebounds to pace the Maroon Knights, followed by Emily Bucon's 15 points and 11 from Cassie Sorge.
But it was Wheeling Central's stifling defense that won the evening in the rematch as the hosts successfully limited Park's damage both inside and outside. During the first three quarters, the visitors managed to convert just 10 of 37 field goal attempts. The Patriots finished the game shooting only 30 percent (15 of 50).
''We've worked on (defense) a lot since the last time we played them,'' Kurtz said. ''Park can put a lot of good offensive players out there and it is tough stopping them most nights because of the way they spread the floor. We did a good job of stopping their ball penetration and giving help inside.''
Special kudos went to Sorge and Bucon, who had the task of staying with the Patriots' top offensive threats Emily Puskarich and Haley Robb.
Puskarich ended up with 14 points on just 6 of 16 shooting and six of her points came in the latter stages of the fourth quarter.
''Cassie did a great job on Puskarich both times we played them," Kurtz said. ''Emily only had six points in the first game and we held her down again (Tuesday night) although she hit some shots at the end.''
The big difference was a defensive change the Central coaches decided upon after Robb had blitzed the Maroon Knights for 36 points the first time around. Bucon drew the assignment this time and helped limit Robb's wide-open looks as the torrid-shooting junior managed to connect on only 3 of 15 shot attempts. Two of her buckets were 3s as she finished with 10 points.
''We switched to Emily because she is taller and it really worked out,'' Kurtz said. ''Haley is one of the best 3-point shooters around and they run a lot of stuff to get her open. Emily didn't come out of the game for one second and she worked hard on both ends of the floor.''
The Patriots had difficulty defensively trying to hold down McCormick and Bucon. McCormick opened the game with two nice drives on the right baseline for layups. Krista Crawshaw dropped a pair of free throws through the cords to put the Patriots within 4-2.
Sorge, fouled on a drive to basket, went 1-for-2 at the line and McCormick then scored from the left side after another slick move. Bucon's dribble penetration and layin extended Central's early lead to 9-2.
The Maroon Knights were in front by eight when Marissa Tucker trimmed the deficit to 14-9 at the end of the first quarter.
Ashley Martin, 5-foot-11 senior, also helped out on the defensive end early in the second quarter by swatting away two shots by the shorter Park guards. Bucon then drained a 3-pointer for a 17-9 lead.
Taking advantage of some loose ballhanding by the Central offense, which had seven of its 14 turnovers in the second quarter, the Patriots eventually pulled to within 20-19 as Robb finally got some shooting room and buried a 3-pointer. A few minutes later, Robb made it a 22-21 game with a transition hoop. Sorge then responded with a fast-break goal and two McCormick free throws restored the Maroon Knights lead to five points at 26-21 at the half.
Four points from Julia Palmer midway through the third quarter enabled the Maroon Knights to take their largest lead, 34-24. However, Park battled back to within seven at 38-31 entering the final eight minutes.
Tucker hit a transition basket and Kambria O'Neal scored on a stickback early in the fourth quarter to get the Patriots back within three at 38-35. But Sorge's entry pass to Bucon for a layup made it a five-point lead again. Crawshaw's foul toss was followed by inside baskets from McCormick and Bucon putting Central in front 44-36 with four minutes remaining.
Park rallied again to within 44-40 on two Puskarich free throws and a nice move down the lane by Tucker. With time becoming a factor, the Patriots had to start fouling. Two free throws by Bri Robbins, her only points of the game, put Central up 46-40. Sorge then helped close out the victory by sinking 4 of 6 chances at the foul line during the final 1:13.
''Central did a nice job defensively on us but I think our kids were a little passive offensively," Park coach Meredith Dailer said. ''We talked about attacking their defense, especially on the offside, but we weren't able to do it. We didn't get a lot inside and give them a lot of credit. They worked hard early keeping us away from the offensive glass.
''It's disappointing to lose here but we can't dwell on it. We've got to get ready to play (John Marshall) in the OVAC Tournament. Hopefully, there's a lot of good stuff ahead of us the next several weeks.''