GLEN DALE -Wheeling Central coach Penn Kurtz let out a huge sigh of relive as his Maroon Knights were celebrating their newest sectional title.
At halftime, it seemed there would be no doubt the No. 4-ranked Knights would be cherishing another sectional championship. By the end of the third period, however, it was a different story at the John Marshall high school gym.
No. 9 Magnolia used a 23-12 run to get within eight by the start of the fourth quarter, but wouldn't be able to finish off its rally as the Blue Eagles fell 68-59.
Magnolia’s Mallory Chapman (5) shoots over Wheeling Central’s Sydney Bennington (22) and Regan Blaha (10) during their game Friday.
''The first half we played great,'' Kurtz said. ''We played great defensive, we limited their shots. Then we came out in the third quarter and did just the opposite.''
Trailing 40-21 at halftime, Magnolia (12-9) opened the third with three consecutive 3-pointers by Mallory Chapman, Grace Berisford and Kelsi Chapman to cut the 19-point deficit to 12 in just under two and a half minutes.
By the end of the period, the Blue Eagles trailed by eight, 52-44, as Mallory Chapman connected on a layup before the buzzer.
The Central lead was down to five at 56-51 when Kelsi Chapman hit both free throws on a one-and-one.
The Blue Eagles could have cut it down to two, but Berisford couldn't connect on two 3-point attempts.
''We had our best 3-point shooter shoot it twice,'' Magnolia coach Mark Blair said. ''If one of those would have fell in, who knows what coulda happened.''
A Maria Olsen put-back following the miss put the Central lead back at seven and the Blue Eagles could get no closer.
Sophomore Lindsey Baker, who is averaging 21.3 points her past four games, finished with a game-high 21 points on 9 of 14 shooting.
''Lindsey has really been getting it on both ends of the court for us,'' Kurtz said. ''She made some nice steals, runs the court well and she's able to penetrate and get to the basket well. She's really been playing great for us.''
Baker was backed by Regan Blaha, who had 20 points and connected on 50 percent of her attempts.
''I was glad to see us have two players have a good night,'' Kurtz said. ''We needed that. We haven't been shooting the ball well.''
Sydney Bennington added 11 points for the Maroon Knights (13-10), who will play host to Morgantown Trinity Wednesday night at 7.
Mallory Chapman, the Blue Eagles lone senior, led Magnolia with 20 points, while little sister Kelsi added 11 and Berisford had 10.
The Ealges will be on the road Wednesday night and will face No. 2-ranked St. Marys (20-1).
''Give them credit,'' Kurtz said. ''They came out in the third quarter and came right back at us. They knocked down some 3-point shots. That got them right back in it. They have some good shooters. We talked at halftime that they were going to come out and give it everything they had. We just had to match their intensity.''
After the Knights went on a 27-9 run during the final six minutes of the first half, most would have counted Magnolia out.
''At halftime I said, ''girls, let go try to out score them in the second half.'' We did that (38-28). It wasn't enough, though,'' Blair said. ''I was proud of the girls that they came back in the second half. They did not give up. We could have very easily have folded up shop.''
Central held the Blue Eagles to 7 of 25 shooting in the first half, while the Maroon Knights connected of 15 of their 37 attempts.
''The first half Central shot the ball very well,'' Blair said. ''We could not get a rebound. They were hitting boards and we weren't boxing out really well. They were getting two, three shots at the basket. That hurt us. That's one of the reasons why were down so much at the half.''
Another reason, according to Kurtz, is the amount of confidence his team has gained recently.
''We've been playing really well,'' he said. ''We've played some really good teams that forced us to play better. Then it really hit last Friday night when we played St. Marys. They came in undefeated and we beat them by 21 points. I just think that game gave them the confidence that they can play with anybody. I think that helped us jump out to an early lead. We put a lot of pressure on them defensivley. We got turnovers, easy baskets. When we do that, we're a pretty good team.''