MORGANTOWN - At the beginning of the season, Morgantown girls' basketball coach Adam Henkins outlined his team's goals for the season, and two that appeared at the very top of the list weren't very surprising: Beat Wheeling Park and break a seven-game losing skid against the Patriots, and return to the State Tournament.
Having beaten Park twice during the regular season, it was clear that a sweep was the only way the Mohigans were going to get the job done, as they played host the Patriots in the Region I co-championship on Tuesday night.
Mission accomplished times two, as the Mohigans overcame a 16-1 first-half Park run to pull away down the stretch for a hard-fought 61-52 victory.
Park’s Kendra Johnson (35) tries to get off a shot in front of Morgantown’s Ashley Holloway.
Photo by Bob Gay/The Dominion Post
MHS senior Caroline Columbo scored eight quick points early, helping the Mohigans jump out to an early 13-4 lead, but Park, led by the outside touch of Emily Puskarich and the inside presence of Kambria O'Neal, reeled off an extended run that resulted in a six-point lead midway through the second quarter. But a flurry of 3-pointers by the Mohigans - they finished with six, all in the first half - eventually erased the lead, and the two teams were virtually even at the break.
"We could feel the momentum slipping away from us in the first half," Taylor said of the Park run, "but we knew we needed to just get to our game. Rebounding and defense is always the key for us, and when we did that better in the second half, it got us to where we wanted to go: Charleston!"
Morgantown increased its ball pressure and switched well throughout the second half, and eventually built a 42-33 lead midway through the third. But Park once again responded with an 8-0 run to retake the lead, until MHS senior Leah Taylor picked up her game, hitting a three-point play from the paint and canning a pair of free throws to give her team a lead it never relinquished. Down the stretch, it was Taylor again, with another conventional three-point play, plus four more clutch free throws to ice it for the 19-5 Mohigans.
Puskarich led all scorers with 17, while Taylor's 14 and Columbo's 13 paced the Mohigans.
"Leah is a little girl, but she's tough as nails," a jubilant Henkins said after the game. "She hit the big shots when we needed her to, especially from the line. I thought we did a tremendous job on the boards in the second half, and took away most of their open looks. Team defense, plus a calm, relaxed, confident demeanor, even when the game was tight, won it for us tonight."