Greenbrier East's Elizabeth Romeo defends a shot by Charleston Catholic's Anna Whelan.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- An already tough week got even rougher for Charleston Catholic on Tuesday night.The Class A Fighting Irish, though, lived up to their nickname and gave Class AAA No. 1 and defending state champion Greenbrier East all it could handle before succumbing in a 59-47 loss. A crowd of about 200 attended the girls high school basketball matchup at the Charleston Catholic Athletic Complex.Catholic was coming off a 75-16 loss at Class A No. 1 and four-time defending state champion St. Joseph, then learned over the weekend that first-year Irish coach Paul Sutherland and his staff weren't going to be with the team as Catholic Principal Debra Sullivan reviews possible Secondary School Activities Commission violations.Sutherland took over for Ashley Shepler, who stepped down this summer after eight seasons. Sutherland compiled a 159-43 record in eight seasons at Winfield, guiding the Generals to two Class AA state titles.
"Anytime I have a concern we pause,'' said Sullivan. "I review things and during the interim I take steps to ensure that our teams are in good hands while I sort through things. I look forward to a resolution and I hope for a good resolution. I'd like to think [Sutherland would] be back within two weeks. That is my plan.''So in stepped Theresa O'Leary, who has been an assistant coach at Catholic for various sports through the years, as the head coach for her first game Tuesday. She was helped out by former Shepler assistant Scott Welch and Zach Bogan, a Catholic graduate who coached the Irish middle school girls soccer team this past season."They did everything that we asked,'' said O'Leary of Catholic's players. "They were aggressive and played their hearts out. You couldn't have asked for more."We thought we could hang with [Greenbrier East]. [The coaches] believed that, we just had to make [the players] believe that. They came out and played loose. We are just so proud.'' Catholic (5-9) pulled within nine points (50-41) on senior guard Samantha Fletcher's 3-pointer with 4:31 left in the game.Greenbrier East senior Biana Andre' followed with a turnaround jumper and converted 1 of 2 free-throw attempts to push East's lead to double digits (53-41) with 3:36 to go and the Spartans' advantage never dipped into single digits again. Andre' finished with 16 points, with five coming in the fourth quarter.East junior guard Chloe Honaker netted 17 points, hitting 5 of 10 3-pointers, and was the only other player in double figures. East made 43.8 percent of its shots while Catholic canned just 33.3 percent."The worst game we played all year,'' said East coach Jim Justice, The Greenbrier resort owner. "Not to take anything away from Charleston Catholic because those kids played as hard as they could play. We had some kids sick."[Starting guard Elizabeth] Romeo and Andre' have been sick. Chloe Honaker has a turned ankle. You could say, 'Well, we have semester exams [today].' You've got issues. We haven't played in two weeks. All those are contributing factors, but it's my job to have them ready. Really to tell it like it is we played terrible. It was just one of those nights.''It looked as though East (10-0) was going to run away from Catholic in the opening quarter, taking a 13-2 lead as Honaker knocked down three 3s. The Irish battled back and closed within 16-8 by the end of the period.The Spartans were dialed in from long distance early, sinking seven straight 3s bridging the first and second quarters to go ahead 34-19 at halftime. East's lead reached as high as 18 points in the third period, but the Irish closed out the quarter with a 7-1 run to trail by 12 points (45-33) entering the fourth. Fletcher accounted for five of the seven points with a 3 and a baseline jump shot.
Fletcher finished with a game-high 22 points, including four 3s, and added five rebounds and five steals for Catholic. Irish senior point guard Anna Whelan contributed nine points, five boards and six assists and junior Hannah Gallian added 11 points and six rebounds off the bench."I think they're playing together as a team,'' O'Leary said. "They knew they needed to step up. I think this can only give them more confidence, which is what they need as they start edging toward the postseason.''Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at email@example.com or 304-348-4811.