Michaels, Baker drill big free throws at the end

WHEELING – Wheeling Central did not have a lead for more than three minutes of its West Virginia Class A, Region One co-final matchup with Trinity on Wednesday night in East Wheeling.

The lead came at the right time.

Mackenzie Michaels and Lindsey Baker combined to make four free throws in the final 1:40 and Baker had a key steal near the end of the game in the Maroon Knights’ victory against the Warriors.

“It all started with defense and we ended it with a great steal by Lindsey,” Central coach Penn Kurtz said. “We probably didn’t lead for more than two minutes but we led when we needed to lead.”

Wheeling Central (14-10) will find out its seeding and opponent for the state tournament today. The Maroon Knights will begin state tournament play next Thursday at the Charleston Civic Center Coliseum.

Not that it started easily for Central.

The Maroon Knights couldn’t buy a basket in the opening half and had several turnovers that directly led to Trinity points as the Warriors jumped out in front 23-13 at the half.

Kurtz didn’t have a Knute Rockne speech ready at the half. He didn’t need one.

“I told the girls that I really didn’t think we could play any worse than we did in the first half, so we were probably going to play a better second half any way,” Kurtz said. “I also thought we had too many people trying to do too much. So we talked about everyone just doing their job. I thought we did that in the second half.”

The second half was a complete switch, as the Knights used a 7-0 defense-induced run, including a 3-pointer from Regan Blaha, to get right back in the game and actually grabbed the lead momentarily.

“We got a stop and a basket, and then we were able to do it again,” Kurtz said. “And that was a big 3 by Regan. I thought that really loosened things up a bit.”

All told, Central outscored Trinity 15-4 in the third quarter to take a 28-27 lead.

From there, it was a battle, with each team taking turns with the lead.

Trinity responded, or, more precisely, Megan Myers responded, to start the fourth quarter with an old-fashioned three-point play and a 3-pointer to give the Warriors a 33-38 lead.

Central chipped away, tying it at 35-35, but four straight free throws by Trinity, two each by Morgan Triplett and Myers, gave the Warriors a 39-35 lead midway through the final quarter.

Cate Calissie made it a one-possession game and then Central made a big play when Baker got free inside after a missed free throw to tie the game at 39-39.

Myers made 1 of 2 free throws to give Trinity the lead back but Central’s Michaels made two to give Central the 41-40 lead.

The Knights got the ball back and were running the clock when Baker saw an open path to the basket. She drove in but her shot was blocked by Jackie Halapy and the Warriors got the rebound.

“Absolutely the right play,” Kurtz said. “We told the girls in the huddle, ‘if you get a layup take it. If 15 (Halapy) is there, go at her because she has four fouls.’ She made a nice play there.”

Trinity’s second-half turnover woes continued one more time, as Baker stepped in front of an entry pass and was fouled. She made both to seal the win and the trip to Charleston.

“We had the right play designed but we didn’t make the appropriate pass,” Trinity coach Cary Woods said. “That called for a bounce pass and we tried to go over the top with it and they stepped in front of it and made a good play. Those things happen. This is a tough place to come and win a basketball game. They have an outstanding team.”

Baker led the way with 18 points for Central (8-for-8 at the foul line) and Michaels added 13 points and nine rebounds.

Myers led the way for Trinity with 17 points and Halapy had eight points, eight rebounds and two blocks.

“We didn’t take care of the ball in the second half,” Woods said. “When we did have open shots, we missed them. We must have missed seven layups in the second half and a couple of those were uncontested. Those are shots that we usually make.”

Kurtz will take it.

“I’ve been coaching here for 21 years and I’ve been to 19 state tournaments and I just told the girls I have never been more proud of a team than I am of this one,” Kurtz said. ” I don’t think a lot of people believed itn this group, but we (the coaches) believed and they believed.”