WHEELING - There's no game during the regular season that the Wheeling Central Catholic and Wheeling Park girls' basketball teams would rather win than when they square off against each other.
Tuesday night on the home floor of the Patriots, neither team at times played like they knew how to pocket that much-desired victory.
Park was cold as ice at the outset, hitting only 4 of 26 shots but trailed by just 21-17 at halftime because the Maroon Knights turned the ball over 14 times.
In the end though, it was Patriots' two-time all-stater Emily Puskarich scoring five points during the final 2:16 that rallied the Patriots to a 49-45 victory.
With the score tied at 41-41 with 3:30 remaining after Park's Marissa Tucker buried a 3-pointer, Central went back in front by four on Colleen McCormick's two free throws and a runner by Ashton Cross, her only basket of the game.
Danielle Kutrovac was fouled while going back up after pulling down a rebound and she knocked down both free throws, getting Park back within 45-43.
The Maroon Knights then threw the ball away and Puskarich drove to the other end drawing a foul on her shot attempt.
Park's four-year standout hit both free throws to tie the score at the 2:16 mark. Emily Bucon then missed a runner which would have given the lead back to Central. Puskarich leaped in to come away with the rebound and didn't give the ball up until she put up a short runner that dropped through the cords handing the Patriots the lead to stay at 47-45 with 1:40 remaining.
After Central was assessed an offensive foul, Park went into its delay game and worked the clock down to the one-minute mark before throwing the ball away only to have the Knights hand possession right back on a travel violation in the backcourt.
The Patriots missed the front end of the 1-and-1 and Central obliged with two misses of its own at the foul line before knocking the ball out of bounds. The Patriots again threw it away with 26 seconds, giving the Knights yet another chance to either tie the game or go back in front with a 3.
McCormick, however, was whistled for a three-second violation, forcing Central to immediately foul Puskarich after the inbounds pass with 13 seconds left. She swished the front end of her 1-and-1 but the ball jumped off the rim on the second attempt. Puskarich was fouled in the backcourt with 13 seconds on the clock, extending the lead to 48-45.
After Bucon missed a 3-point attempt and McCormick's follow shot jumped off the rim, Kelsie Johnson grabbed the rebound and was fouled immediately with four seconds to play. She was able to cash the back end of the double-bonus to close out the scoring.
The loss dropped Central, West Virginia's third-ranked Class A power, to a 14-3 record while the Patriots, eighth in the Class AAA standings, notched victory No. 10 against five defeats.
While disappointed at the three-second call that took away what may have been Central's final chance, Maroon Knights coach Penn Kurtz preferred to look at the big picture.
The standout had 12 points at halftime and only had two opportunities for shots in the third quarter, both of which were missed. In the fourth quarter, McCormick added another seven points to end up with 19. She also had another terrific night underneath the glass, collecting nine of her 15 rebounds during the second half.
Lindsey Baker came off the Central bench to score 11 points while Emily Bucon, playing just her third game since coming back from a knee injury, had seven points.
Puskarich and Tucker provided most of the offense for the Patriots, scoring 18 and 17 points, respectively. Haley Robb got off to a rough start going scoreless in the first half, missing her first eight shots before swishing a couple of triples in the third quarter.
''Tucker came to play," Davis said. ''She hit some big shots.''