WHEELING -There couldn't have been many boards on the wooden court at the Wheeling Central Catholic's 13th Street gymnasium that Colleen McCormick's sneakers didn't jump on or sprint across during Wednesday night's West Virginia Region One Class A championship game against St. Marys.
It seemed like the 5-foot-11 junior was everywhere on nearly every possession, scoring from both inside and outside, pulling down rebound after rebound and playing relentlessly along with the rest of her teammates on the defensive end of the floor.
McCormick's sparkling double-digit effort that resulted in 20 points and 11 rebounds helped the Maroon Knights earn another trip to Charleston for next week's state tournament by outlasting the Blue Devils 73-62 in the battle of highly ranked 21-3 small-school basketball powerhouses.
Wheeling Central’s Colleen McCormick drives to the basket as St. Marys’ Kendra Watkins (34) defends Wednesday in Wheeling.
Photo by Jim Elliott
With McCormick accounting for 14 of her points in the first half, including a couple of occasions when she stepped behind the arc and buried 3s to give Central the lead for keeps.
Afterward, Coach Penn Kurtz talked about the importance of making St. Marys have to be the chaser and not the front-runner in this hotly contested battle.
''Before the game we talked about trying to play from in front because when they have the lead they are awfully hard to beat,'' Kurtz pointed out. ''They are a great offensive team that has seven girls that can score and you really can't relax on any one of them. This was a tough matchup but we hustled and played hard the whole game. Fortunately, we made enough free throws at the end to get the win."
Another key was Central's surprising first-half success shooting the ball from behind the arc. Bri Robbins connected three times, McCormick hit her back-to-back 3-pointers and Cassie Sorge also drained a 3. Late in the game when the desperate St. Marys defense had to foul to try and stop the clock, the Maroon Knights drained 14 of 20 free throws.
The hosts hit just two field goals in the fourth quarter but swished 14 of 20 foul shots, including 7 of 8 by Emily Bucon.
After running into early foul problems that put her on the bench for nearly 14 minutes of the opening half, Bucon was nearly unstoppable during the final two quarters when she scored all 19 of her points. She fired in 10 points during the third quarter, enabling the Maroon Knights to carry a 12-point cushion in the final 8 minutes.
In reality, the victory was anything but a two-girl show as all five starters contributed double figures. Robbins had nine of her 12 points during the opening half while Bucon was watching from the bench. Sorge also had a dozen points and Julia Palmer continued her strong late-season play by scoring 10 points, tossing in three of her four attempts and cashing all four free throws.
''Colleen and Emily have been our big scorers but coming into this game I felt like we were going to have to make some outside shots," Kurtz said. ''Cassie and Bri both made some big ones. Colleen's two 3s weren't really something new.
''She's been working on that shot for a year and she made one in the sectional finals against Madonna."
McCormick's most amazing play came in the third quarter when she crashed the boards, grabbed a rebound and while still in the air used her right hand to put the ball off the glass into the hoop.
''That was incredible," Kurtz said. ''She came out of nowhere to put it back in."
While Central can celebrate heading to Charleston next week where it could be seeded No. 2 behind defending state champion Hunting St. Joseph, the disappointed Blue Devils are packing away the basketballs dreaming of what might of have been despite a scintillating 21-4 season.
''We had a nice long run," St. Marys coach Howard Meeks reminded. ''These seniors have won 101 games and Dani Renner played in every one of those victories the last four years.
''I want to congratulate Coach Kurtz,. In the age when everybody wants to whine about public and private (schools), he knows how I feel about him and the way he runs his program. I wish Penn and my friend Freddie Sauro at Williamstown the best of luck in the state tournament."
Sauro's team, which knocked off St. Marys in their sectional final that forced the Blue Devils to travel to Wheeling, eliminated Weirton Madonna on Wednesday in the other Region One co-final.
St. Marys' presented a balanced attack in its bid to return to the state tournament. Renner, 6-3 sophomore Kendra Walker and Audra Clark each tossed in 14 points. Clark, didn't start because of a knee injury that required an MRI examination Tuesday morning.
''Basically we had our all-stater playing on guts but I don't know if it would have a made a difference if we were completely healthy," Meeks said. ''We don't have any excuses."
The Blue Devils, three-point losers to the Maroon Knights on this same floor back in December while Walker was out with an injury, did get off to a fast start in this one. Renner drained a short baseline jumper, while Walker cashed two free throws and Dani Moore got loose for her one-hander off the glass that had St. Marys on top 6-0.
Robbins' first 3-pointer got Central on the scoreboard and her second one gave the home team a 14-10 lead with 3 minutes left in the first quarter.
However, the Blue Devils squeezed back in front 18-17 when Walker nailed her third turnaround shot just ahead of the buzzer.
St. Marys held its last lead at 20-19 after a Clark baseline bucket but McCormick spotted up behind the arc just to the right of the circle and buried a 3-point attempt to put the Maroon Knights in front 22-20.
After Renner's free throw, Palmer scored the next four points on a one-hander and two free throws following a Sorge steal. McCormick's second 3-pointer and another from Robbins closed the half with Central in front 35-29.
Bucon scored her first five points of the game and Palmer added another basket opening the third quarter as the lead stretched to a dozen points at 43-31. St. Marys got no closer than eight points the rest of the way as the Maroon Knights led by 54-42 entering the final quarter and used the foul line to seal the deal.
After the rangy Walker scored eight points in the opening quarter, she was limited to just three baskets the rest of the game.
''We kept trying to move her away from the basket and it seemed to work," Kurtz pointed out.
''For a while we put Ashley Martin on her because she is a little taller than our other girls and also has those long arms. The key was we only gave them one shot most of the time. When Walker was able to post up and get the ball inside, we had to live with that. We just didn't want her to get the rebound and score.''