GLEN DALE - Capturing the West Virginia Class A Region One, Section One girls' basketball championship for the 17th time in 19 seasons under the direction of coach Penn Kurtz, Wheeling Central jumped in front early and was never threatened while rolling past injury-riddled Weirton Madonna 53-28 on Friday night at John Marshall High School.
The Blue Dons, with just eight players in uniform including three freshmen, tried to take the air out of the basketball early in the game but succumbed to Central's halfcourt traps that forced them to turn the ball over nine times in the first half. By that time, the No. 2-ranked Maroon Knights had all but clinched their 21st victory against only three defeats.
Central also dominated on the offensive end of the floor, getting the ball inside early and often to Colleen McCormick. The hustling junior with the sweet release scored 15 points and pulled down 10 rebounds. Five of McCormick's seven baskets came as the result of well-timed entry passes, two each from Emily Bucon and Cassie Sorge and the other by Bri Robbins.
PHOTO BY TONY VIOLA
Weirton Madonna's Isabella Anile, left, is guarded by Central's Cassie Sorge.
Bucon also scored a game-high 15 points. She added six rebounds and teammed with Robbins and Sorge in spearheading another solid defensive game by Kurtz's squad.
''Our defense has been very good the last several weeks and we worked a lot on team offense getting ready for (this) game,'' Kurtz pointed out. ''We saw some things when we played Madonna in the Undo's Tournament that we were able to use this time.''
The victory earned the Maroon Knights an opportunity to play on their home floor next Wednesday night in the Region One tournament against St. Marys, which was knocked off by Williamstown.
Madonna, a remarkable 17-7 under coach Don Ogden despite its injury situation, gets another chance at earning a state-tournament berth, but the Blue Dons have to go on the road to play Williamstown.
''We get another shot at it,'' Ogden said. ''Our girls will come out and play as hard as they can.''
Ogden refused to offer Madonna's depleted roster as an alibi for the one-sided loss.
''We don't have any excuses. Wheeling Central's very good,'' he said. ''They are the No.-2 team in the state for a reason. It wouldn't surprise me at all to see Central playing for the state championship on Saturday night (March 10) in Charleston.''
Madonna started the game by trying to run a delay offense, looking to break somebody free for a layup and also keep the ball out of the Knights' hards. Central's early double-teams on the ball out front quickly foiled that strategy.
With the score tied at 2-2 nearly 3 minutes i, back-to-back Blue Dons turnovers resulted in buckets by McCormick at the other end. On both occasions, Bucon was able to find holes in the Madonna zone and she zipped the ball into her junior classmate for easy turnaround shots.
Nicollette Selittli rained in a 3 pulling the Blue Dons to within 6-5 ahead of Julia Palmer stickback goal for Central. Rachel Grubbs' free throw made it an 8-6 game but Bucon's steal and drive to the rim just ahead of the buzzer had the Maroon Knights in front 10-6.
A Parkins one-hander that splashed into the net got the second quarter off to a good start for the Blue Dons. But the excitement for Madonna was short-lived as Central responded with a 6-0 spurt. Bucon twice scored in transition following turnovers and Ashley Martin added a putback, extending the lead to 16-8.
Madonna's only other point prior to the intermission was an Isabelle Anile foul toss while Bucon and Robbins both cashed a couple of free throws to put the Knights ahead 20-9.
Because of their problems avoiding the Central traps, the Blue Dons got off only 10 shots in the first and 26 for the game. Ogden wasn't disappointed with the few number of shots his team took, however.
''I would have been OK if we had just taken one shot in the first half if we had been able to take care of the ball,'' he noted. ''I think we got fatigued in the second half because of their pressure.''
Robbins took over some of the offense for the Maroon Knights in the third quarter when she scored six of her 11 points as the lead was extended to 35-16. McCormick's final basket was a 3-pointer from the left wing giving Central its biggest advantage at 50-23 before she took a seat on the bench with the rest of the starters halfway through the fourth quarter.
Madonna didn't have a double-digure scorer. Pacing the offense was Parkins with eight points, including a pair of 3s.Amy Davis was next with seven points.