WHEELING - After going through a gauntlet of playing a schedule that featured teams with a combined record of 95-5, Wheeling Central probably felt like it could use a break.
Playing a team in Bishop Donahue, which was 9-12, seemed to offer such a respite, although, being it was a West Virginia Class A, Region One, Section One semifinal, Central girls' coach Penn Kurtz knew there was no time for a letdown.
Central used a 22-0 run spanning the last part of the first quarter and the first half of the second to break an early 8-8 deadlock en route to a 55-33 victory against the young Bishops.
Lindsey Baker, coming off a 29-point performance against previously undefeated St. Marys, had 15 points and Ragen Blaha and Mackenzie Michaels added 11 and 10, respectively, to help the Maroon Knights (12-10) advance to Friday's section final against Magnolia at the John Marshall Field House in Moundsville.
Central used its stout defense to make what was the winning run, and that was by design.
"We wanted to establish our defense early," Kurtz said. "The last time we played them (freshman point guard Jewel) Purpura had 19 points. (Tuesday) we held her to (three points) through the first three quarters and that was pretty good defense. We've been playing well on defense."
For Bishop, a team that starts two freshmen and two juniors, staying in the game early evaporated in a haze of turnovers.
"I think there was a point where we turned the ball over on seven straight possessions and they capitalized on those," Bishop Donahue coach Donnie Gillis said. "We just had too many turnovers. They are a good team and they are better than we are."
Early on, the Bishops kept it close, and had a chance to go ahead but missed two free throws.
That's when Central made its run, closing the first quarter on a 12-0 run to lead 20-8.
Central then scored the first 10 points of the second quarter before Cassidy Campbell, who had a team-high 10 points for the Bishops, ended the run with a pair of free throws.
Central led 32-12 at the break.
"When they are capitalizing on everything, you have to make the most of the opportunities you get," Gillis said. "We weren't able to do that."
Central ran the lead to 38-17 with more defense that led to several transition baskets and a 50-19 lead. In the game, Central had 14 steals.
Both teams substituted freely in the fourth quarter.
"We've played well lately, against a good schedule, and I thought we played well in spurts (here)," Kurtz said. "When we are balanced, we are a hard team to defend. Lindsey had a mismatch in her last game (against St. Marys) and she used it, but (Tuesday) we had a balanced attack and that makes us a better team."
"We will get better (during the offseason)," Gillis said. "We will push the fact that we need to get to the point where we are in their situation, and we take advantage of opportunities. I'm excited about the future. To win nine games with such a young team will help us in the future."