WHEELING - Balance and depth were the keys Friday night as Wheeling Central's girls' basketball team did what it has become accustomed to this time of year - advanced to the championship game of the Undo's Upper Ohio Valley Basketball Tournament.
Sydney Bennington came off the bench to score a team-high nine points while five other Maroon Knights scored at least six as Central built a 22-point lead after three quarters and held on for a 56-43 victory over Bishop Donahue at Wheeling Jesuit University's Alma Grace McDonough Center.
The victory puts Wheeling Central into tonight's 7 o'clock championship game against Madonna while the Bishops will take on Steubenville Catholic to open the day at 4 p.m.
Bishop Donahue’s Taylor Koontz (12) tries to get around the defense of Wheeling Central’s Cara Stahl (3) and Sydney Bennington (22) on Friday.
With six different players scoring, and three of them draining 3-pointers, Coach Penn Kurtz' squad (5-3) raced to a 19-10 lead after a quarter. The Bishops (1-5) were still within 10 at 23-13 early in the second quarter, before pushing the margin to 35-15 late in the frame.
Freshmen Cassidy Campbell and Jewel Pupura did hit bonus-bombs late to cut the margin to 35-21 at the break. However, sophomore Cate Calissie scored all eight of her points in the third as Central extended the lead to 50-28.
Pupura hit two more of her five three-pointers in the fourth as the Bishops used a 13-2 run to pull to within 11, but could get no closer.
"Balance has been our strong point so far this season," Kurtz said. "We have the luxury of putting any of our first nine players on the court and feeling comfortable about what we are doing.
"I felt like we played alright (Friday), but I was a little disappointed with the defensive effort, and I really feel like we can do a lot better. We fouled too much and we let them hurt us with their 3-point shooting.
"But this is a young team and we will keep playing together and getting better. I do know that Madonna is going to be a real challenge for us and we will need to play better to beat them."
Ashton Cross backed Bennington and Calissie with eight points while Regan Blaha, Ashley Gast and Maria Olson had six each for the winners. Pupura finished with a game-high 19 for the Bishops while Kat Polinski added 13 in a losing effort.
"That is the most 3s we have hit all season long," Donahue coach Donnie Gillis said. "But turnovers and rebounding really hurt us. We are only shooting 22 percent from the field as a team, and you will not win many games like that.
"We had to play without senior point-guard Kelsey Schau, but I felt that Jewel (Pupura) stepped in and did a real good job running the offense. Central is a good team and played good defense.
"In the first half we just didn't run any offense, but I think we changed some things and got a little better late."
Donahue had 22 rebounds, nine less than Central, and turned the ball over as many times while the Knights had just 12. The Bishops had taken just 13 shots at the half, six less than Central took in the second quarter.