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Park Girls Secure Victory Over No. 7 Capital

Photo by Chris Dorst/Gazette-Mail Capital’s Kyra Brown goes to the basket as Wheeling Park’s Alexis Bordas (left), Natalie Daugherty (21) and Lala Woods (1) try to defend.

Capital coach Michael Cunningham learned a lot about his team Saturday afternoon, albeit at the expense of a loss.

The Cougars outrebounded and outshot Class AAAA power Wheeling Park, but also discovered that those things don’t matter if they didn’t take care of the ball.

Capital committed 27 turnovers and was saddled with a 70-57 home loss to the No. 2-ranked Patriots.

Alexis Bordas paced Park with 24 points and six rebounds and Lala Woods added 16 points and five boards as their team built leads as large as 16 points midway through the third quarter and held off a late charge from the No. 7 Cougars (7-4).

Senior Talayah Boxley, a returning first-team All-Kanawha Valley player, led Capital with a strong double-double (18 points, 15 rebounds).

For the Patriots (12-2), the outcome eased the disappointment of Friday night’s 50-41 loss at No. 4 Cabell Midland as Park took a weekend trip against top-10 opponents to test its mettle in preparation for the postseason.

“That’s definitely the thought process with this trip,” said Park coach Ryan Young. “Come down to Charleston, stay at the Embassy, play two top-[10] teams and come away with a win, which is fun but more importantly, you learn from both games, the win and the loss, and that’s kind of what we came down here to do.

“And now we’ve got to turn our attention to Morgantown, which has been a thorn in our side for a little while here, and we’ll be ready for Tuesday.”

Capital led by as many as five points in the first quarter, but 10 second-quarter turnovers fueled the Patriots, who captured a 39-29 edge at halftime and extended that as high as 47-31 in the third quarter.

When the Cougars finally started to solve their penchant for miscues, they battled back. They had only two turnovers in the fourth period and shaved their deficit down to 59-54 on a Kyra Brown basket with 2:38 left in the game. The Patriots helped that surge by having six of their 16 turnovers in the fourth quarter.

That’s when Park pulled the ball away from the basket and ran off time with its possession offense. They worked more than a minute from the clock with their weave, leading to a layup and three-point play for Jai’lah Walker with 1:30 to go.

The Patriots went 5 of 5 at the foul line in the final 90 seconds to secure the victory and were also 6 of 7 from the floor in the fourth quarter.

“I think we did a poor job at the beginning of the fourth quarter handling the ball,” Young said, “but I think the last three minutes, we did a really good job handling the ball and did a great job with our stall game, forcing them to foul and milking the clock.

“[Capital] kept making plays. They’re a good basketball team. [Boxley, Mya Toombs and Brown], they’re about as good as you’re going to see all year. They’re hard to stay in front of and they’re going to crash the boards, and the others can shoot. They’re a tough team to defend, and I think this is great for us.”

Playing without senior starter Natalyia Sayles, a COVID close contact, the Cougars leaned on Kyleigh Bulger (16 points, five rebounds), Brown (12 points) and Toombs (11 points). Bulger was 4 of 8 on 3-pointers.

The Cougars shot 48% overall to Park’s 46% and held a slim 32-30 edge in rebounds. They also sank 7 of 17 from 3-point range to the Patriots’ 6 of 19. However, 19 turnovers in the middle two quarters doomed the hosts’ upset chances.

“That was the key of the game,” Cunningham said. “They put a lot of pressure on you from the beginning to the end. We handled it a lot of times, but 27 turnovers … it’s hard to win with that many.

“My girls didn’t hang their heads. They kept playing and we had a chance at the end. That’s where we want to be — just have a chance to win.”

Capital seems well on the way to racking up its first winning season since a 14-10 mark in the 2011-12 season. The Cougars went 9-9 last season, prompting Cunningham to assess his program with an ambitious schedule that includes games against Park, No. 1 Morgantown, Fairmont Senior, Woodrow Wilson and Boyd County (Kentucky), as well as strong Mountain State Athletic Conference foes such as Huntington.

“Exactly right,” Cunningham said. “I feel like I’ve got a good team, so I wanted to play some of the top teams in the state. This is my first year of playing against Wheeling Park since I got here, and we’ve got Morgantown on the schedule. We tried to get some of that competition against teams that are regulars at the Civic Center.

“At the end of the day, that’s our goal. Peak in February and try to make a run [to the state tournament]. When you get to the Civic Center, it’s only eight teams and you’ve got a chance.”

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