WHEELING - The margin of victory had very little to do with the familiar smile Wheeling Central coach Penn Kurtz was sporting after Tuesday night's 61-33 victory against shorthanded St. John Central in the girls' semifinals of the Upper Ohio Valley Catholic Basketball Tournament sponsored by Undo's Family Restaurants and Main Street Bank.
''They were hurt; we were healthy and we took advantage of it early," Kurtz said as the Maroon Knights rolled to their eighth victory in 10 games. The victory also earned Central a berth in the 7:30 championship game tonight against up-river Section One rival Weirton Madonna, an easy 48-14 winner against Bishop Donahue.
''We couldn't have played much better in that first quarter," Kurtz said in describing the blazing start that saw the Maroon Knights outscore the Irish, 29-1.
Wheeling Central’s Cassie Sorge (12) drives past St. John’s Haley DeCoy during action of their game.
''We shot the lights out early, got out in transition and played great defense. If I was to grade our play, it was like a perfect score.''
Cassie Sorge and Colleen McCormick scored 11 points each in the first quarter, sparking a 28-0 run after Kristen Russell's free throw got St. John Central within 2-1 a minute into the game.
Sorge, the top scorer with 14 points and was among 12 Wheeling Central players to break into the scoring column, drained a 3-pointer from the left corner and followed that with a conventional three-point play for an 8-1 advantage.
The teamwork that has been a major factor in the Maroon Knights' early season success also showed up early as McCormick twice got free for layups after accepting entry passes from Sorge and Emily Bucon. Later in the quarter, Bucon found Sorge breaking to the basket for another easy basket.
''Team play is something we talk about in practice every day,'' Kurtz said. ''We can only be as strong as we can be if we play as a team."
With the starters on the bench for the entire second quarter, the Maroon Knights outscored the Irish 7-4 to lead by 36-5 at halftime.
Kurtz then opened the second half with his first five on the floor for another 4 minutes before calling it a night.
''I put them out there to start the second half just to get them some extra minutes and have them work a little bit on their zone offense,'' he added.
St. John coach Bubba Kapral was thankful Kurtz pulled the plug.
''The bottom line is Central is very good,'' he said. ''He showed a lot of class. It could have been a lot worse.
''Coach Kurtz told me he thought this was one of the best teams he has had and I agree with him. Sorge is a big-time point guard and Bucon is a great player. McCormick also is very strong inside as a scorer and rebounder.''
Kapral insisted he still believes St. John (3-3) is capable of reaching its goal of winning the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference Class A championship.
''We still have control of our destiny and there is not a team on our schedule the rest of the way we can't beat,'' Kapral said. ''The biggest thing is that we have to come back and play strong (tonight)."
St. John, playing without two injured starters in senior Emily Powell and sophomore Maclaine Murad, faces winless Bishop Donahue at 4:30 p.m. today in the third-place game.
The Irish did not have a double-figure scorer as Rosa Young and Kristen Russell finished with seven points each, while Kaydie Coppa and Morgan DeLuca chipped in with six apiece.