GW's Kelli Harrison tries to shoot between Wheeling Park's Emily Puskarich (left) and Daniele Kutrovac.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- George Washington's opening night received mixed reviews Saturday.The Patriots trailed by double digits most of the game before making a late push that came up short in a 51-47 decision to Wheeling Park in their season opener. A crowd of about 300 attended the Class AAA matchup of top-five teams at George Washington High School.GW, No. 3 in the state coaches association preseason poll, trailed from the first few minutes of the opening quarter and still was behind by as much as 10 points in the fourth quarter. The Patriots battled back after turning up the defensive pressure and forcing No. 2 Park into eight turnovers in the final period to pull within one point (48-47) on junior post Kelli Jo Harrison's putback with 27.5 seconds left.Park junior guard Marissa Tucker was fouled on a steal attempt by GW and hit both ends of a 1-plus-1 for a 50-47 advantage with 17.7 seconds to go. GW sophomore point guard Alanna Mobayed missed a running 3-pointer and Tucker secured the rebound and hit 1 of 2 foul shots with 2.1 seconds left to set the final score.It wasn't the opening night that GW, which garnered two first-place votes in the poll, had envisioned after returning five starters from a team that has advanced to the semifinals of the state tournament the past two seasons. The Patriots shot 28.1 percent (18 of 64) from the floor, including a 4-of-31 effort on 3s, and missed eight free throws."I thought we got our composure back after the first half,'' said GW coach Jamie LaMaster. "Too many first-game mistakes. There are no excuses with this team. This team has been together too long and played in too many big games to let anything both them."They found themselves a little bit in the second half and played a lot better. I come away from this positive. I think these are two of the best teams in the state. I was pleased with the effort. They showed a will to win. We'll look at our mistakes and get better every time out. That's our goal.''
GW's Harrison provided the muscle inside with 19 points on 8-of-16 shooting and added 11 rebounds and four steals while Ward was the only other double-figure scorer with 11 points on 4-of-17 accuracy. Patriots senior guard Kayla Stewart and senior post Leslie Gilmore combined for 12 points and 15 boards."We can rely on each other,'' said Ward, who was heartened by her team's resiliency. "It's our first game. We got the jitters out. The first half we didn't shoot that well. We couldn't hit anything outside. All we had was our post. We didn't give up. We stuck to our defense. It's going to be a good year.''Park (3-0) was coming off its second game in as many nights after defeating Parkersburg South 68-48 Friday in Wheeling. Park was outrebounded 40-30 and committed 25 turnovers.Park senior guard Halie Robb scored a team-high 18 points, connecting on 5 of 9 from 3-point range, while Tucker chipped in 15 points and six assists. Park senior guard Emily Puskarich, a state player of the year candidate, only had six points on 3-of-15 shooting but added nine boards, three assists and six steals."I saw character,'' said Park coach Dee Davis. "I knew our legs wouldn't be there. Emily's shot was short and Marissa, our point guard, was doing some things she normally doesn't do. I think it's the worst game we've played this year."I thought GW played well. They're scrappy and they played hard. They're more physical than us. We stepped up to the challenge some of the time, not all of the time. We got knocked off the ball a couple of times. I like this team a lot. I know when they're fresh what they look like. I just wanted to come out of here with a win. I'm happy with that.''Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at email@example.com or 304-348-4811.