WHEELING - Wheeling Central girls' basketball coach Penn Kurtz admitted being concerned his team might get off to a slow start during Tuesday night's contest with Magnolia at its 13th Street Gymnasium.
It turned out Kurtz was spot on with this thought. However, the early game funk didn't last too long against Coach Dave Chapman's willing but very young Blue Eagles.
Magnolia, starting a lineup that included two freshmen and a sophomore, led 4-2 in the opening minute when Katie Blatt hit two free throws. The score was tied on three occasions until Cassie Sorge buried a trifecta from the right wing to put Wheeling Central ahead to stay at 9-6. The triple ignited a torrid, 26-4 run and the Knights put things in cruise control from there while rolling past the Blue Eagles, 68-32.
Wheeling Central’s Colleen McCormick (3) goes to the left hand for a shot against Magnolia’s Audrey Gibb (4) during Tuesday’s night’s victory against the Blue Eagles.
Photo by Rick Thorp
It was the second straight victory to open the 2011-2012 season for Kurtz's highly regarded club that heads to Williamstown on Friday night for a matchup against Region One rival Williamstown at the Yellowjackets' Tipoff Tournament.
''We were really up for Tucker County and I thought we might come out a little flat (Tuesday),'' Kurtz said.
To try and get his team playing at a faster tempo, Kurtz had it jump into a press right away. Central's halfcourt defense featured a lot of trapping which forced the Eagles into numerous turnovers.
Chapman, realizing Magnolia was facing long odds in its season debut, was impressed but totally not surprised with the Knights' performance.
''I saw Central play Friday against Tucker County and they are who I thought they were,'' he said. ''They are a talented team that can go five deep on the bench.
''The thing I was concerned about was our competitive spirit and effort. We came out pretty good but you know basketball is all about making shots. We had no answer for that run either. They made shots and we had trouble scoring the basketball.''
For the game, the Blue Eagles netted 10 of 46 shots and also struggled at the foul line, netting 12 of 25 free throws. Central, meanwhile, was torrid from both the field and the free-throw line again. After hitting 50 percent from the field in the season opener, the Maroon Knights starters were 16 of 27 before leaving the game for good with 4:39 remaining in the third quarter with the scoreboard showing the hosts in front 55-18. None of the Central starters missed a foul shot as it went 16 of 21 at the line overall.
Angela Sparachane came off the Central bench and led her team in scoring with 14 points, including nine in the second half. With limited playing time, Central's veteran trio of Colleen McCormick, Emily Bucon and Bri Robbins had 13 points each.
Sophomore Mallory Chapman paced the Magnolia scoring with 10 points, although she was able to connect on just 4 of 16 shots.
After Sorge's triple put the Maroon Knights ahead, Alivia Melott hit a free throw cutting the deficit to 9-7. Central then rattled off 10 straight points as the fastbreak was crackling during the next several minutes. Robbins swished the first of her three triples, McCormick rolled off a pick inside and cashed a conventional three-point play.
Bucon's passing ability came into play on the next two possessions as she got the ball to Ashley Martin for a short baseline jumper and then another pick-and-roll pass to McCormick extended the lead to 19-7. Late in the quarter, a Bucon steal and coast-to-coast drive put the score at 23-8. Dallas Mullett hit a shot for the Blue Eagles but Bucon was fouled going to the basket and she dropped in both shots for a 25-10 advantage heading into the second quarter.
Robbins then tossed in two more triples while scoring eight points in the second quarter as the Knights went on to lead 46-16 at the break. It was 58-23 heading into the final eight minutes.
''Our second group got a lot of playing time and did very well,'' Kurtz said. ''Cassie and Emily (Bucon) were sick coming into the game, so it was good we could play our bench as long as we did.''
Central dominated the rebounding 42-33 and forced the Blue Eagles into 20 turnovers. The Knights had 13 turnovers, only six while the starters were in the game.