Charleston Catholic's Keifer Hovorka puts up a shot over Wheeling Central's Justin Hammers (3) and Michael Pleva.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Despite holding a comfortable lead much of the game, Charleston Catholic found itself in a tenuous spot Friday night.With less than seven minutes left, Wheeling Central had shaved that advantage down to six points and for just a moment the game was up for grabs. But the Irish were up to the challenge.Nick George scored half his 16 points in the final five minutes and the Irish went on an 18-4 end-game run to pick up a 62-42 victory over the Maroon Knights in front of a paid crowd of 725 at the Charleston Catholic Athletic Facility.Zach Casto led the Irish (13-1), the state's No. 1 Class A team, by matching his career-high of 16 points without missing a shot. Point guard Garret McCarty added 13 points, seven assists and six of his team's 13 steals."We're starting to understand,'' said Irish coach Bill McClanahan. "Our IQ is starting to go up. When Central cut it to six and we called timeout, we understood some of the breakdowns we were having. We weren't sharing the basketball and we weren't moving on offense and we weren't finding shooters and blocking out on defense."We made those two adjustments, and the lead got pushed back out again. So it wasn't anything magical - just a case of going back and doing the things they knew they needed to do. We need to leave that switch back on, but they're starting to understand it.''David Park's 3-pointer from the left corner with 6:52 remaining brought the Maroon Knights within 44-38 after they'd trailed by as many as 16 points late in the second quarter and by as many as 14 near the end of the third quarter.David Godwin began Catholic's late push with a floater in the lane, and then George had his hand in 10 of the next 14 points - two transition feeds from Keifer Hovorka for goals, a post-up move, two free throws and a sweet dish to a cutting Hovorka to cap another fast break.
McCarty was also big in that burst, twice going coast to coast for layups, one off a rebound and another time following a steal."Coach told me I need to be a leader,'' McCarty said. "Things were slipping and I try to get everyone involved. We're a competitive team and I was trying to do everything I could [to hold the lead]. Defensively, I was in the right spot at the right time and I got the finish on the other end.''Central (8-10), which had won six of its previous eight games, received 14 points from Park, 12 by freshman Chase Harler and 11 rebounds from Brandon Wallace."I told the kids that was the turning point,'' said Central coach Mel Stephens. "We cut it to six and they called timeout and I told them [Catholic] was going to make some adjustments to what we were doing to their zone or go man to man, and they went to man. And the next three possessions, we acted like we never saw anybody play man before. We took bad shots and they went down and converted them and it went from six to 12.
"We have moments in games - and that's kind of been our thing all year - where for a stretch we'll play really well, and then two, three, four possessions where we don't do what we're supposed to do. Against good teams, you can't do that because they take advantage of those kind of things and they extend the lead if they have the lead, or if you have the lead, they catch back up.''The late rush was actually the second impressive response by the Irish Friday night.The initial time came in the first half after they'd burst into a 16-6 lead with smoking shooting, hitting six of their first seven tries, including four 3s.
George exited seconds later (with 2:40 left in the first quarter) with his second foul, and Casto followed him to the bench a couple minutes later with his second personal. But even minus their No. 1 and No. 3 scorers on the season, the Irish flourished the rest of the first half."We're deep,'' McCarty said. "We have 11 kids that can play ball. If Nick and Zach do go out, we have kids that can replace them. As you saw, we still played well. We adjusted. We kept attacking and we looked confident. We came out to play, and it shows.''The numbers were sort of screwy for the two teams, who have accounted for nine of the last 11 state Class A championships.Catholic shot better than 50 percent in every quarter, ending up at 62 percent (24 of 39) and made half its 10 tries from 3-point range. Casto was 6 of 6 from the floor (with a pair of 3s) and 2 of 2 at the foul line. Central, meanwhile, shot a mere 28 percent.However, the Knights held a whopping 37-15 edge in rebounding, as David Pleva came off the bench to grab nine and Park gathered in seven. Catholic committed 14 turnovers, but Central had 21."Our shooting has a lot to do with our movement and our distribution,'' McClanahan said, "and our being ready to take good shots, and the ball being delivered the right way. I think we're starting to see that. We're shooting in rhythm, we're not forcing shots and so our shooting percentage is starting to get better.''
Central completes its southern swing by playing at Winfield at 3:30 p.m. today.Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.