ST. CLAIRSVILLE - Down eight points with 3:30 to go and staring defeat in the face, Wheeling Park used a stingy defense - with a little luck from missed Morgantown free throws - to force overtime in the Wheeling Hospital/OVAC Championships.
From there, the Patriots did their damage at the free-throw line as Emily Puskarich and Haley Robb knocked down a combined 12 free throws in the extra 4 minutes - the only points scored by Wheeling Park - to win a second consecutive OVAC championship, topping the Mohigans, 68-62, in overtime for the Class 5A crown.
''We knew we had to maintain our composure on offense and get the looks we wanted to get,'' Wheeling Park coach Meredith Dailer said. ''We were protecting the bucket on defense and that is really where the difference came. We stepped it up better defensively in the last 3 minutes and got some stops.
Haley Robb, left, and Sammi Hanson get tied up Saturday night.
Photo by Josh Strope
''We let our kids set the goals because we believe when they set the goals, that is the path they want to take. This is something they decided they wanted and I am very happy for them.''
Wheeling Park led going into the fourth quarter but Morgantown scored the first six points to regain the lead. Wheeling Park cut it to one with 4:40 to go on a free throw by Puskarich before the Mohigans ran off a 7-0 run thanks to two baskets by Rachel Michael and a 3-pointer from the top of the key by Emily Sabatino to go ahead 54-46.
The Patriots followed that up with a 6-0 run. Marissa Tucker added a free throw and a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 54-50.
On the next two Morgantown possessions, Sabatino and Olivia Naugle missed the front end of 1-and-1s to breath more life back into the Patriots.
Krista Crawshaw got Park within two with a layup, only to be answered at the other end by a Sabatino layup.
With a minute remaining, Puskarich missed a 3 at the other end, but made up for it with an interception, running the floor and feeding Kambrea O'Neal for an easy layup to make the score 56-64.
O'Neal immediately repaid the favor, coming away with a strip and dishing off to Puskarich for a layup that tied the game. The junior was fouled but missed a free throw that would have given the Patriots the lead.
With 35.5 seconds left, Morgantown held for the last shot, but Leah Taylor's jumper from just inside the top of the arc bounced off the rim. Robb came up with the rebound but was unable to get a shot off before the regulation buzzer.
''I thought we had the game down the stretch,'' Morgantown coach Adam Henkins said. ''We got everything we wanted, a four-point lead with a minute to go and we didn't knock down foul shots. We had two, three critical turnovers in that last minute and I was very upset we weren't able to put the game away.
''(For the last shot) we had a play set up where we were attacking the rim and we had a go-to player - Leah Taylor, who was playing very well (Saturday) - looking to take the shot she did, and more times than not that shot goes in.''
Added Dailer: ''Their substitution pattern made it look like they were trying to shoot 3s so we wanted to make sure we were defending the 3.''
The overtime belonged to the Patriots. Robb was a perfect 6-for-6 from the line, while Puskarich was 6 of 8. Wheeling Park scored the first nine points before Taylor hit a 3 with 35 seconds left. Puskarich sealed it with three free throws down the stretch.
''It's a big win and gets us ready for sectionals and if we have to play Morgantown again,'' Puskarich said. ''It gets our excitement level up and gets us ready for the rest of the season.
''You have to work on the defensive end to get to offense first. We had to work hard to play defense and that led to things going our way on offense.''
Puskarich led the Patriots with 22 points, followed by Robb with 14 and Tucker and O'Neal each with 10. Taylor paced the Mohigans with 18 points and Michael had 12.