Knights stymie Bellaire
BELLAIRE — After dropping a decision to Triple-A Morgantown last Friday, veteran Wheeling Central head coach Penn Kurtz was searching for a pick-me-up for his squad as it headed into ‘The House of Champions’ for a highly-anticipated girls’ high school hoops match-up against Bellaire.
A 13-2 run to end the first quarter Wednesday night did the trick, and the Maroon Knights knocked Bellaire from the ranks of the unbeaten, 71-49, on Guernsey Street.
“I was so happy with our effort,” Kurtz beamed. “I told our players that as long as we matched their intensity we’d be fine. We did a nice job of that.
“We were 2 of 24 from the 3-point line and couldn’t make a shot all night (against Morgantown), so this was important.”
Not only did Wheeling Central (2-1) shoot better, but it defended well. In fact, it’s defense, in many ways, fueled much of its offense, something that the Big Reds (5-1) are known for.
“We got a little taste of our own medicine,” Bellaire head coach John Farrier said.
“This game is good for us because we want to play some teams that will come out and challenge us and pressure us. It’s a tribute to them. We’re a team averaging 70 points a game and we had 23 at halftime. That’s a tribute to how hard they play and how hard they go after it.”
The Big Reds jumped out to an early 7-2 lead thanks to a 5-0 run that consisted of a Cierra Davis 3-pointer and a Natalie Stoner layup. But after Kurtz called time nary two minutes elapsed on the first-quarter clock, the Maroon Knights clamped down, allowing only four points the rest of the period.
Meanwhile, Wheeling Central cranked up its offense, finishing the quarter on the aforementioned flourish, with five players reaching the scorebook during the spurt.
“We missed some early layups,” Kurtz said, “but then our defense held tight and held them scoreless for a long time and that got us the lead.”
Taylor Duplaga converted a 3-point play off a steal to tie the game at 9-9 before Riley Bennington gave the Maroon Knights the lead for good with a putback moments later.
Bellaire kept its deficit in single digits most of the first half until Wheeling Central went on a 6-0 run late in the period keyed by four Duplaga points. She ended the half with four more points, giving Wheeling Central an 11-point advantage at the break.
Farrier said his team didn’t help its cause during the early onslaught.
“We started the game out so well and I thought we’d be OK,” he said. “Then they settled in and we started turning the ball over. That’s one thing you can’t do against this team. They have good players and some quick girls. If you help them, you can be in for a long night.”
A pair of Hannah White layups help the Maroon Knights build a 21-point lead in the third quarter.
“We did a nice job of getting to the basket,” Kurtz said. “We got the ball inside and that was effective for us. And, toward the end of the game, we were able to hit some outside shots.”
Eden Gainer, who equaled Duplaga with a game-high 17 points, scored eight points in the final quarter, five coming during a 9-0 spurt that put the Maroon Knights up 25 — 59-34.
“They share the ball really well,” Kurtz said of his team. “We have six people that can really score and our bench gave us some good minutes right at the end of the first half.
“Kaylee (Reinbeau, 10 points) and Kaitlyn (Ferns) were both in there banging on the boards, and Tristen White came in there and gave us some valuable minutes. And when you have two guards like Eden and Riley, it’s hard for other teams to match up.”
Michaela Flaherty paced Bellaire with 12 points.
“We got this game on the schedule to push us and make us and try to make us a better team,” Farrier said. “And I think we’ll be better because of it.
“I just wish we would’ve played better (Wednesday).”
Bellaire claimed the reserve tilt, 39-35.