WHEELING - As a coach, when you are trying to get your team ready for tournament time there is no question that you want to play the best available competition you can to help with that.
Wheeling Central coach Penn Kurtz and his Lady Maroon Knights may be taking things to extremes down the stretch, but the veterar hopes it will only make his team better.
Wednesday night Central got a big taste of what playing up is when they hosted unbeaten and West Virginia Class AAA No. 1 ranked Parkersburg South at its East Wheeling gym.
Sophomore Anna Hayton scored 20 points and pulled down 10 rebounds while junior Keya Bartlett added 17 tallies and a school record 12 steals as the lightning quick Patriots flexed their muscles with an impressive 82-40 victory over the Knights.
Things will not get any easier for Kurtz' group. After watching South, which is fresh off the OVAC Class 5A championship last Saturday, improve to 17-0 on the season, Central will host Class A No. 2, and also undefeated, St. Marys tonight.
The 10-8 Maroon Knights then hit the road to battle once-beaten Linsly on Monday and close the campaign against University, who's only three losses on the season are to Parkersburgh South.
In all, including last night's game, Wheeling Central has a three game stretch against teams that were a combined 58-1 as of last night, and have won 58 games in a row.
"This is what you have to do to be ready to play in the tournament," Kurtz said. "These type of games may not be fun to play in, but it lets us focus on where our weaknesses are and hopefully will help us get better and improve on them."
Coach Scott Stephens' squad wasted little time showing the Knights what kind of night it was going to be, racing to a quick 7-0 lead less than a minute into the contest and using a 12-0 run a short time later to take a 23-10 lead after a chapter.
The Patriots then quickly scored the initial seven of the second frame, and with Hayton dropping in 10 points in the quarter, pushed the margin to 43-19 at the break.
Junior Regan Blaha, who paced Wheeling Central with 17 points, did get the opening basket of the third period, however it was followed by a 9-0 burst. The fourth quarter began with a Maria Olson hoop for Central, and then, again, an 8-0 South run.
"We played very well (Wednesday), better than our last couple of games actually," Stephens admitted. "Coming in we felt that they were a little over-matched inside, so we wanted to take advantage of that and all three of our inside girls played well.
"Keya Bartlett got us going on the defense end with a school record 12 steals and we took advantage of putting pressure on them. Keya has a real nose for the ball."
As for starting four sophomores?
"Yeah, we start four sophomores and a junior, but at this time of the season they are playing older and it is more like four juniors and a senior," Stephens said.
"This is a nice win for us, Penn (Kurtz) does a very good job here and those kids are always ready to play. They are tough and hard-nosed and we always enjoy playing against them."
Sophomore Katelyn Byrd added 15 points and eight rebounds while classmte do-it-all Taryn McCutcheon added 10 points and a number of head-turning assistn mentos. Carlie Wilson, the only starter not to score in double-figures, finished with eight points and a team-high 12 rebounds.
Olson and junior Sydney Bennington each tallied seven off the bench for Wheeling Central, which was out-rebounded by a huge 47-18 margin and turned the ball over 25 times, eight more than the Patriots.
"At the half I told the girls not to give up, I asked them to go out and play and see what happens, so I couldn't give up on them," Kurtz added. "They are just so big and quick and that was a real problem for us.
"We couldn't stop them in the post and that is something we need to keep working on. Things aren't going to get any easier for us so we have to keep playing hard."