Wheeling Central Hands Tucker Its First Defeat
Duplaga nets 23 in matchup of top-4 programs
WHEELING — Tucker County has been known to spoil the fun for Wheeling Central. After all, it ruined a perfect regular season for the Maroon Knights last winter.
Wheeling Central was well aware, and on Senior Night, that wasn’t going to be the case thanks to a few of those four-year players.
Taylor Duplaga caught fire in the second half on her way to a game-high 23 points, Riley Bennington played lockdown defense on Tucker standout Sydney Nestor and Wheeling Central earned a 65-44 victory in a battle of two of the top four teams in Class A.
“We have played them for years so we had a pretty good idea of who they are and what they could do,” Wheeling Central coach Penn Kurtz said.
Despite a No. 2 ranking and undefeated mark, Tucker County (13-1) looked like the underdog in the early going. Wheeling Central’s defense forced the Mountain Lions into five first-quarter turnovers, and even when they were able to get a shot off, the ball wasn’t finding the bottom of the hoop.
As for Wheeling Central (16-2), its shots were going in just fine.
Duplaga hit two baskets, Kaylee Reinbeau also had two (with one being an and-1) and Hanna White hit a layup as the Maroon Knights opened on an 11-0 run.
Nestor broke up the run by netting the only points of the first quarter for the Mountain Lions. White answered that with a 3-pointer and Wheeling Central was cruising.
“To get off to a quick start, and we weren’t playing that well is what was amazing,” Kurtz said. “We kept giving them second and third shots. They are tough and strong on the boards. We worked on boxing out and had that little talk at halftime.
“In the second half, we did a little better and that allowed us to make that late run in the (fourth) quarter.”
Wheeling Central, which entered ranked No. 4 in Class A, was outscored in the middle two quarters, but the early run was good enough to help keep Tucker County at bay.
Duplaga scored 15 of her points in the second half, including an off-balance 3-pointer late in the third that gave Wheeling Central its double-digit lead back at 48-37. Tucker never got closer.
The Maroon Knights opened the fourth quarter on a 15-3 run to put the game out of reach before both teams turned to their benches.
Duplaga scored six points in the fourth, her final regular-season game at the Wheeling Central gymnasium.
Tucker boasted its own all-stater in Nestor, but despite being the leading scorer for the Mountain Lions, was held to 10 points.
Kurtz knew where to give the credit there.
“That is Riley Bennington,” Kurtz said. “She said she wasn’t going to let her go off. Riley got in a little foul trouble but she is as tough as they come when it comes to playing defense.”
Reinbeau added 17 points for the Maroon Knights, while White scored 15. Wheeling Central welcomes Fort Frye on Monday in an OVAC Tournament semifinal.
Tucker was held to 29-percent shooting (18 of 61). Wheeling Central scored on better than 50 percent of its shots (26 of 50).
“We got down early, slow start and we just didn’t recover,” Tucker County coach Dave Helmick said. “We couldn’t get our feet under us and you can’t spot a good team that much of a lead. We couldn’t make a shot to save our life.
“They play good defense but I don’t know if we were off guard or couldn’t get an easy shot to fall. We settled in and made a nice run, but I think a few girls got worn out. Everything was tough and Central had a lot to do with that. It is a learning thing, that is why you play 22 to get ready for the playoffs.
“We play one of the toughest schedules in Single A and you are fooling yourself if you think you are going to go undefeated. You just take this one, move on and make sure this one doesn’t turn into another one.”