WHEELING - When the game is on the line, it is usually time for Emily Puskarich to shine.
With Wheeling Park struggling to maintain the lead down the stretch against backyard rival John Marshall Friday night, Puskarich scored nine of her team's final 10 points and came up with two critical steals enabling the Patriots to hang on for a 63-57 victory.
The triumph on Senior Night enabled Wheeling Park to finish off the regular season with a 13-8 record, including two decisions over the Monarchs. John Marshall will carry an 11-11 record into post-season play next week.
''Those two steals were huge," noted Patriots' Coach Dee Davis. ''Emily started playing defense on the right end of the floor and did a nice job there."
Trailing 30-26 at halftime, John Marshall used back-to-back threes from hobbled senior all-stater Kylie Howard and eventually closed the gap to 48-44 entering the final eight minutes.
Howard, after missing nine games because of another knee injury, has looked good the last two starts, scoring 21 against University and adding 16 points and eight rebounds Friday night.
The Monarchs had a huge opportunity to tie the game halfway through the fourth quarter and possibly steal the win at the end. Emily Winters knocked down the first of a two-shot foul to cut the deficit to 53-51.
When she missed the second attempt, the ball wound up in the hands of Morgan Watson and she also drew a foul on the putback attempt.
Unfortunately for the visitors, both those free throws jumped off the rim. John Marshall had still another opportunity to tie the game but an attempted pass from the wing wound up in Puskarich's hands and she was fouled on her way to the basket. The Park four-year standout and first team all-state honoree last winter nailed both shots for a 55-51 lead with 3:18 remaining.
John Marshall's Kristen Lewcki got loose on the baseline and her bucket made it a two-point deficit. After Marissa Tucker misfired with her three-point attempt, the Monarchs were headed back up the floor when Puskarich stole the ball for the second time and she sailed in for the uncontested layup extending the lead back to four at the 1:40 mark.
After two more misses at the stripe the Monarchs were left with no choice but to hack the first Park player with the ball every time, and on nearly every occasion, that turned out to be Puskarich. At the one-minute mark, she was perfect at the line again giving the Patriots a 59-53 advantage with just 1:02 on the clock.
Howard went baseline and dropped in two more points but Puskarich was immediately fouled and swished the pair to restore the six-point margin. The Monarchs hurried attempt at a three-pointer jumped off the rim and Puskarich went back to the line and cashed one of two on this trip.
The Patriots Kendra Johnson made one of two foul shots with 21 seconds to play before JM's Watson drained a shot from the outside to close the scoring.
John Marshall also had its problems at the foul line, making only five of 15 attempts including just one of seven in the fourth quarter.
Monarchs' Coach Mark McCormick, while disappointed with the loss, had no complaints about this team's effort. ''I can't fault my girls. They executed the game plan. We came in obviously trying to take away Park's two prolific scorers, Robb and Puskarich. I thought we did a nice job with the triangle and two defense and it seemed to confuse them at times."