CHARLESTON - So many times in state tournament games, it's a senior staring her last game in the face that brings out the best.
During Friday's Class A semifinal against Williamstown, Wheeling Central's Cassie Sorge made the play of the game to save the Maroon Knights' season.
With the scored tied at 50-50 late in the fourth quarter, Williamstown's Liz Flowers tried to start a break but Sorge stepped in front of a pass and raced the other way. Her layup was too hard, and after Bri Robbins tipped the rebound, Sorge came up with it, ran to the corner and turned around and drained a 3-pointer with 1:36 left.
PHOTO BY JEFF BAUGHAN
Williamstown’s Liz Flowers is surrounded by Wheeling Central’s Cassie Sorge, left, Bri Robbins (22) and Colleen McCormick, back.
Emily Bucon and Colleen McCormick each knocked down a pair of free throws and Wheeling Central hung on to beat Williamstown, 57-53, at the Charleston Civic Center to advance to its first state championship game since 2008.
The Maroon Knights (24-3) will play top-ranked Huntington St. Joseph, which pummeled Trinity in the other semifinal, at 2:30 p.m. today.
''Our captain, our four-year starter, came through when we needed it,'' Wheeling Central coach Penn Kurtz said. ''The biggest play was when she stole the ball and it looked a little crazy out there. Cassie has been hitting big shots all year.''
Added Sorge: ''I just wanted to make a shot to get us up. Once I got the shot, I put it up and prayed that it went in. As soon as I missed (the layup) I knew I had to get the rebound and I thought my best chance to score was to get to the 3-point line.''
The 3-pointer was Sorge's only basket. She added two foul shots to finish with five points.
Wheeling Central was up three at halftime and controlled most of the third quarter, heading into the final 8 minutes up 46-38. Kurtz knew that wouldn't be the end of Williamstown.
The Yellowjackets (21-5) battled back and brought it to a one-possession game on three different occasions before finally tying it on a Flowers jumper.
Following Sorge's 3, Williamstown got back to a one-point deficit on a layup by McKenzie Smith.
In the 1-and-1 and trying to get the ball back, Smith fouled Bucon, who calmly knocked down both shots to make it a three-point game again.
Smith missed a tying 3-point attempt on the other end and McCormick came down with the rebound, her 18th, and like Bucon, made both free throws after being fouled to give Wheeling Central a 56-52 lead with 24 seconds left to seal a victory.
''You think about every shot you've trained for and every shot you've shot in a gym,'' McCormick said. ''You focus on just the rim and that's all that counts.''
To go along with her 18 rebounds, McCormick was dominant inside during the first three quarters. She used her size advantage to get around the Yellowjackets defenders, who had no answer for her and finished with 19 points.
''It wasn't easy, it was a battle underneath, but the real battle was on their press breaker and our guards did a really nice job on handling their press and beating them up the court,'' McCormick said.
Bucon got off to a slow start, missing five of her first six shots before finally turning it on and finishing with a game-high 23 points. Her biggest contribution, though, came on guarding Flowers.
A day after the West Liberty recruit scored 47, Bucon limited her to 6 of 24 shooting and 19 points.
''She knows what to do with the ball and she knows how to get to the basket,'' Bucon said. ''She is a very smart player so you just have to beat her to her spot.''
Added Flowers: ''They were playing real good defense. They were helping so I tried to get the kick out as much as I could. I tried to force the foul too much probably but shots weren't falling. Emily Bucon is a really good defender and it was tough. She didn't turn, she didn't help, it was really good pressure.''
Wheeling Central will face its toughest task today against Huntington St. Joseph.
Veteran Williamstown coach Fred Sauro, who has coached against both teams this season, said the Irish are ''one of the best teams I've ever seen.''
It will be the eighth championship game in Kurtz's 19-year tenure. The Maroon Knights won titles in 2004 and 2008. The Irish are playing in their fifth straight title game, beginning with that loss to Wheeling Central in 2008. They won the next three.
''St. Joe's, we have followed throughout the year and we know their guards are outstanding,'' Kurtz said. ''All their players are tall and it will be a real demanding test for us but we are looking forward to the opportunity.
''We are playing on Saturday so I'm going to have a smile on my face, at least until (today). You want to play the best. We've been coming down here for many years, facing Mercer Christian teams, Williamstown had one of the best teams I've ever seen one year. That's what you come down here for. You want to test yourself against the best.
''We'll show up and see what we can do.''