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Wheeling Central wins sectional championship

WHEELING — The Lady Knights are the WVSSAC Class AA Region I, Section 1 basketball champions.

Wheeling Central — exhibiting large amounts of character, toughness, teamwork and resiliency — outlasted a quality St. Marys team, 50-46, Friday night at Wheeling University.

The win propels Coach Roberta Olejasz’s well-drilled charges into the regional tournament against Parkersburg Catholic Wednesday at Wheeling University. The winner of that contest punches a ticket into the state tournament.

Olejasz, a former Central hoop great, couldn’t have asked for a better start, building leads of 11-2 and 20-7. St. Mary’s, an 18-win team, however, closed the first half in solid fashion, paring the gap to 25-20 at intermission.

The Lady Devils carried that momentum into the third period, tallying the first 13 points of the half for a 33-25 lead.

Central, to its credit, refused to crack. The Maroon Knights responded with eight straight points to regain the upper hand en route to taking a 37-34 lead into the final quarter, one in which was nip-and-tuck until the waning seconds.

“The girls just wanted it more. They gutted it out,” Olejasz said. “I am so proud of them. We battled back and never quit.

“We have played through a lot of adversity all year long,” added the former VCU hoopster. “I think that helped tonight. We executed down the stretch when we had to. I am so happy for these girls.”

Some of the Maroon Knight adversity was the loss of standout point guard Brooklyn Edge to a major injury early in the season. The senior dynamo made her return to the Central lineup last night, providing boundless savvy and leadership.

“It was great to have Brooklyn back. She means a great deal to this team,” Olejasz said. “She played very well and she provides us a sense of security when we are killing the clock.”

Edge buried a trey to give Central a 42-37 lead with six minutes remaining. After St. Marys climbed to within 43-42, the Lady Knights went into delay mode with some four minutes left.

Central ace Kaitlyn Blake meshed two free throws at the 2:15 lighting for a three-point Maroon advantage. St. Marys missed from the floor on its ensuing possession with Central’s Haley Severns grabbing the rebound, her 12th of the contest.

Blake was fouled again and proceeded to drain two more freebies for a 47-42 lead with 1:13 left. Anna Bennett goaled for the Lady Devils with 59 seconds showing, making it a three-point issue. Blake again came up big for the Maroon as the 5-10 junior dandy meshed a free throw for a 48-44 lead. St. Marys committed a crucial turnover before Central’s rising frosh Bella Fitzsimmons delivered the dagger with a bucket for a 50-44 cushion. The Lady Devils never recovered.

Blake, already a 1,000-point scorer, was the lone Knight in double figures with 19 tallies. She received well-balanced support as Edge and sophomore guard Addie Payton evenly divided 16 counters. Severns netted six points to go with her strong board work while sophomore Erin Maxwell delivered quality minutes and five points off the bench.

“When we can isolate Kaitlyn on offense she is really tough to defend. She helped carry us offensively tonight,” Olejasz said. “Haley was a force on the boards and Erin gave us a boost off the bench. We got good contributions from everyone tonight.”

Talented junior Callie Powell paced St. Mary’s with 15 points while junior Addie Davis added nine markers.

“We came out timid tonight. We weren’t ready to score and we were sloppy with our passing,” St. Marys coach Fred King said. “It wasn’t anything Central did. It was just us being not ready to play.

“But give Wheeling Central credit for they way the battled for loose balls and how they responded after we took the lead,” he added. ‘“There are three really good teams in this region. Central, Williamstown and us.”

St. Marys and Williamstown will vie Wednesday for a spot in the state tournament. The two teams split a pair of decisions this season.

Central, which improved to 15-8, committed just eight turnovers, four less than the Lady Devils.

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