PARKERSBURG - The Wheeling Park girls' basketball team discovered that returning from a four-day layoff from the hardwoods isn't quite like riding a bike.
In the consolation game of Thursday's Jack Stephens Memorial Holiday Tournament at Parkersburg High School's Memorial Fieldhouse, the Patriots managed to overcome a seven-point, first-quarter deficit and defeat tourney host Parkersburg, 65-56.
"I tell my girls when you are losing at the beginning of the game it's OK, but don't be losing in the fourth quarter -that's when you are in trouble," Wheeling Park coach Dee Davis said. "We haven't practiced because of the Christmas break and the weather, but I am just glad we came out with a win - we really needed that."
Wheeling Park, which decided not to make the trip for Wednesday's opening round because of inclement weather, improved to 5-2 after receiving 31 points, five steals and three assists from all-stater Emily Puskarich. The senior accounted for eight points during a 14-2 run midway in the third quarter which put the Patriots in front to stay at 47-35.
"Emily is our go-to girl," Davis said. "Whatever we ask from her she will do it. She did a super job."
Parkersburg (4-5) fell behind by as many as 14 points in the fourth quarter before slicing the deficit to as few as seven at 60-53 with 1:03 remaining in regulation on a three-point play from Kennedy Walker, who finished with 20 points and nine rebounds. Forced to foul, the Big Reds couldn't creep any closer as Wheeling Park converted 5 of 6 free throws in the final minute.
Parkersburg post player Imani Ward finished with a double-double for the second consecutive night after pouring in 24 points to go with a game-high 14 rebounds. Despite picking up her fourth foul with six-plus minutes still left in the game, the senior was responsible for all 10 Big Red points as her ballclub narrowed the gap to 58-50 with just under two minutes showing.
"We played even with them in the first, second and fourth quarter - there was a small segment in the third quarter where we couldn't find the hole," Parkersburg coach Kenny DeMoss said.
Ward and Walker scored all but two points as Parkersburg established a 10-3 advantage in the opening three minutes of the ballgame. The Big Reds took care of each possession and did not commit their first turnover until the two-minute mark of the first quarter.
By the end of the night, that tune changed as Wheeling Park forced PHS into 26 turnovers.
Kristen Slater scored five of her 10 points off the bench as Wheeling Park outscored PHS 16-2 during a 5 1/2-minute stretch, which put the Patriots in front 19-12 early in the second quarter.
PHS stayed within shouting distance and eventually pulled even at 33 in the opening stages of the second half, but back-to-back 3-pointers from Haley Robb and Puskarich gave the Patriots a 40-33 lead. Robb finished with 13 points and four steals. The 5-foot-6 senior even blocked a shot on the perimeter.
"We were outsized big time, but our girls intercepted a lot of passes," Davis said. "The kids did a nice job putting pressure on their guards and made the entry passes harder."