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Girls' Basketball: Patriots, Mohigans Part V

March 8, 2012
By JOSH STROPE, Staff Writer , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

CHARLESTON - In a state that allows a team that lost in the playoffs one more chance, the West Virginia Class AAA Girls' Basketball Tournament brings you Wheeling Park-Morgantown Part V.

For the fifth time this season, the Patriots and Mohigans will be on the same court when they take the Charleston Civic Center floor at 11:15 this morning in the quarterfinals.

Wheeling Park won the four previous meetings, but this time the stakes are much bigger.

"We anticipated playing them again," Wheeling Park coach Meredith Dailer said. "Every time we have played them, it's been a battle and we are not expecting an easy ride."

Wheeling Park enters as the No. 4 seed, marking the first time in this three-year stretch of advancing to Charleston it will be the favorite heading into a game.

The Patriots' success as Region One, Section One champions, as well as North Marion's regional title run that resulted in three straight Class AAA championships, has left Morgantown on the outs in recent seasons.

The Mohigans were perennial participants in the Big Dance, including championship game appearances from 2005-07 (champs in 2005, 2007).

Morgantown (19-6) is back for the first time in four years and first since Adam Henkins took over for Allan Collins two seasons ago.

In order to advance, Morgantown will first have to get by the team that has been the biggest thorn in its side all season.

While Wheeling Park won all four meetings, none were by more than six points. The Patriots won by scores of 61-55, 68-63, 68-62 (OT), and 50-44.

The overtime victory was for the OVAC Class 5A championship and Wheeling Park had to rally from down eight points late before putting it away in the extra session. Morgantown had a chance to win it with the last shot in regulation but Leah Taylor's jumper was short.

"We are happy to be on the floor for the rematch, if you want to even call it that," Dailer said. "We can't think about this as anything more than a state tournament game. Those other four games don't matter right now.

"We know Morgantown is an offensive threat and is very strong in the post with Briana Nuzum. We want to force them to play strong defense and defend our guards. Whoever controls the tempo is going to win this game."

Controlling the tempo will be one of the Patriots' strong points as they are led by all-stater Emily Puskarich. The junior has been having another solid season, averaging 19 points per game with 6.7 rebounds and four steals. She is a threat whenever she has the basketball in her hands, whether it be driving hard to the basket or lining up for a 3-pointer.

Sophomore Marissa Tucker runs the point for Wheeling Park, averaging eight points, four assists, and four steals.

Junior Haley Robb has never met a 3-pointer she didn't like and is the Patriots' second-leading scorer at 14 points and three rebounds.

At 6 foot, Krista Crawshaw, one of two seniors on the team, provides the strength inside. Crawshaw averages eight points and seven rebounds.

Kelsi Johnson rounds out the starting lineup. Coming off the bench for valuable minutes are Kendra Johnson, Chloe Robb, Kambrea O'Neal, Kristen Slater, Alex Franke, and Caitlyn Taylor.

Despite Wheeling Park's youth, many were key performers on the past two playoff teams, giving the Patriots an edge playing on the difficult Charleston Civic Center court.

"With our main core having played there, we feel it will be a real benefit to us," Dailer said. "We are very familiar with a lot of the teams down there so our confidence is really high.

"The kids are focused and they have one goal in mind. We have to get through Morgantown High first, but I really like our chances."

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