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Free-Throw Line Propels Park to State Semis

Patriots hold on to defeat Mohigans for a fifth time

March 9, 2012
By JOSH STROPE - Staff Writer ( , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

CHARLESTON - When the stat lines were read to Wheeling Park coach Meredith Dailer in the postgame news conference (8 of 28 from the field, outrebounded 34-26, no baskets in the fourth quarter), she rolled her eyes and shook her head.

''I'd have thought we lost by 15,'' Dailer said.

Not so much.

Article Photos

PHOTO BY Photo by Bob Wojcieszak/Charleston Daily Mail

Morgantown’s Haley Holloway defends as a driving Haley Robb of Wheeling Park looks to hold on during Girls’ AAA State Basketball Tournament action Thursday afternoon at the Charleston Civic Center.

Wheeling Park made up for it at the line with 26 free throws and the Patriots continued to be a thorn in Morgantown's side with a 45-40 victory in the quarterfinals of the West Virginia Class AAA Girls' State Basketball Tournament on Thursday at the Charleston Civic Center.

Wheeling Park's victory was its fifth against Morgantown this season, all coming by less than six points.

''They are not pretty stats but I told the girls in the locker room - turnovers, missed shots, there is one beautiful stat on there and that is 78 percent from the foul line,'' Dailer said. ''That saved us and gave us this win.''

The tournament victory is the first for Dailer since taking over at Wheeling Park (22-4) four seasons ago and the first for a group of players that came up short in its first two attempts on the Charleston Civic Center floor.

For the first time in their careers, they will play on a Friday. Wheeling Park meets top-seeded Bridgeport, a 54-28 winner against Robert C. Byrd, at 5:30 p.m. today for a spot in the Class AAA title game.

''Playing Morgantown five times was hard but we stuck with it and it feels great to finally get this win,'' Wheeling Park's Emily Puskarich said.

The Patriots never trailed but did their best to cling to the lead in the fourth quarter.

Morgantown helped Wheeling Park stake to a double-digit lead with early foul trouble - it was in the bonus before the end of the first and in the double bonus at 6:09 of the second.

Wheeling Park repaid the favor in the second half and it could have become disastrous. Puskarich, Marissa Tucker, and Krista Crawshaw each picked up their fourth foul in the fourth quarter and Dailer decided to leave them in. None of them recorded No. 5.

Unlike Park in the first half, Morgantown couldn't connect on its foul shots, going 12 of 20 in the game. Combine that with missed layups and putbacks, and the Mohigans could only watch as the game was starting to slip away.

''(Wheeling Park) took a lot of pressure from us and they stepped up and made their shots,'' Morgantown coach Adam Henkins said. ''We had some opportunities but we didn't have our best offensive game. We weren't able to finish at the basket which is very uncharacteristic for us. The ball just didn't bounce our way.''

The momentum looked like it was finally shifting in the Mohigans' favor as Olivia Naugle knocked down a 3-pointer to bring Morgantown within one with 1:43 to go.

Morgantown brought the pressure and forced Tucker into a bad pass, right into the hands of Alicia Golden. Fortunately for Tucker, Golden took too many steps before dribbling and was called for traveling.

That led to two Haley Robb free throws and a 41-38 advantage.

On the ensuing Morgantown possession, Puskarich showed why she is known just as much for her defense as she is for her offense, with a key steal.

''We always practice when the guards get it at the high post, the forwards have to drop and cover down low,'' Puskarich said. ''I knew I had to get there and I did and was able to get the steal.''

That led to two more Robb free throws as Wheeling Park took a 43-38 lead with 49 seconds showing.

After Naugle missed a 3-point attempt, Puskarich went to the line to seal the victory but instead missed both shots.

Naugle came up with a jumper to trim the deficit to three with 14.4 seconds left.

The inbounds play almost turned into a major mistake as Tucker missed her intended target and it nearly found the hands of Morgantown's Tiara Ireland. Instead, it went through her hands and Park's Kelsi Johnson was able to recover the loose ball.

Johnson then knocked down two free throws to send Wheeling Park into the semis.

''This was a really unique game being the fifth time we've played Morgantown High so we knew what kind of battle we were gonna face,'' Dailer said. ''We are so excited to be here with a smile on our faces with this win and get a chance to make a run at this.

''We scrimmaged Bridgeport and we know we are going to see very good man-to-man. We were able to watch them (Wednesday) and Miki Glen is a very strong guard. She is definitely going to be a focus for us. We are going to have to get resettled on offense. It will be nice to play a team that doesn't know our ins and outs as much as Morgantown does.''

Puskarich paced the Patriots with 12 points, followed by Robb with 11 and Crawshaw with 10. Naugle led the Mohigans (19-7) with 14 points.

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