Charleston Catholic's Samantha Fletcher (24) drives on Wheeling Central's Beth Stayduhar.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Charleston Catholic is no longer satisfied with simply putting up a good fight.The Fighting Irish again turned in a respectable performance against a top-ranked team, but came up short in a 57-48 loss Friday night to Class A No. 2 Wheeling Central. A crowd of about 100 attended the girls high school basketball matchup at the Charleston Catholic Athletic Facility.Catholic (6-10) played toe-to-toe with Class AAA No. 1 and undefeated Greenbrier East, the defending state champion, losing 57-49 Tuesday but pulling within nine points in the fourth quarter. The Irish lost at Central 64-26 earlier in the season."We're getting better,'' said Catholic senior forward Samantha Fletcher, who scored 16 points Friday against Central (14-2). "We're getting closer and closer. Having Hannah [Gallian] back and getting [the starters] all together again is helping us out."The first time we pretty much got blown out by [Wheeling Central]. We want to win. We'll get there one day. We're making progress and taking things day by day. Things keep happening, but we just move forward. It's just coming together as a team. I have to be positive about it. If I'm positive then everyone else will be positive about it.''The Irish have also dealt with the loss of first-year head coach Paul Sutherland and his staff. They have sat out three games this week while Catholic Principal Debra Sullivan looks into possible Secondary School Activities Commission violations.In addition, 6-foot center Catherine Bandak, last year's leading scorer, and incoming freshman Peri Bailey were lost before the year started to knee injuries and Gallian, a junior starter, is just returning from a knee injury.Fletcher said she is beginning to see the pieces come together."We're getting more post presence,'' she said. "Our guards are hitting shots. We're rebounding more. Our defense is getting better. We'll hopefully win a close game.''Central scored the first 11 points Friday, but Catholic closed within eight points (24-16) on freshman Raegan Palmer's putback with 4:49 left in the second quarter. The Maroon Knights, though, scored the next eight points to go ahead 29-18 at halftime. Central maintained a double-digit lead the rest of the way until the Irish netted the final six points of the game.
Senior post Colleen McCormick, who missed a couple of games with a high-ankle sprain, turned in 21 points and 17 rebounds for the Knights while senior forward Emily Bucon, who made her first start since a knee injury in early January and only played about half her usual minutes, added 10 points.Central coach Penn Kurtz had his starting lineup together for the first time since Jan. 7."I thought we played pretty sluggish,'' he said. "Too many turnovers and not sharp. It's always hard to come down here and play. You're riding in a car all day long. It was a tough ride getting down here with the weather. I thought Charleston Catholic played pretty well. They made a lot of shots.''Kurtz said he hopes the Knights, who won 12 in a row before injuries started taking their toll, can get back in gear. Central visits Class AA No. 7 Sissonville (11-4) at 4 p.m. today."We've done pretty well so far,'' said the Central coach who guided the Knights to a runner-up finish at last year's state tournament. "We have a few tough games left. We'll see if we can't get rolling again. We've been stuck in neutral for a while.''
Palmer finished with 10 points and three rebounds for Catholic. Senior Simone Assaley (eight points and four rebounds) and Gallian (six points and four rebounds) gave the Irish a lift off the bench. "They just played with so much heart this week,'' said Catholic interim coach Theresa O'Leary of her players' effort. "The second half they were tired and fought through it and again gave it everything they had."They want it. They didn't lie down and you've got to give them credit for that. We told them in the locker room these are the games that are going to make them stronger and better when it counts.''Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at email@example.com or 304-348-4811.