CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It wasn't the best of situations for Charleston Catholic.Clinging to a tenuous lead over Poca late in a back-and-forth game, the Irish watched as their point guard, junior Garret McCarty, was writhing in pain and rolling around on the floor.McCarty exited with 2:32 left with a leg cramp (that looked much worse) and didn't return until the final few seconds. The Irish, however, proved up for the challenge.They protected the ball just well enough and Zach Casto knocked in a pair of clutch free throws with 16 seconds remaining to secure a 38-37 victory over Poca at the Charleston Catholic Athletic Complex. The battle of state-ranked teams drew a paid crowd of 327.
Nick George (15 points, six rebounds) and Casto (13 points, seven rebounds) led the Irish (19-3), the No. 3 team in Class A, in their regular-season finale."It's huge as far as a great confidence builder for the team,'' said George, a junior who's now just 10 points shy of 1,000 for his career. "Especially the last game at home, especially a rival game like Poca. We look forward to them every year. It's huge to win a close game like that."Even though it's a rough game, it helps the team out. It definitely gives us confidence because you start to see the pieces coming together. At the end of the game, we're getting a little sharper. You realize what you can do, and you start doing it. We're really hoping it starts the trigger on something, so we start rolling.''Poca (16-6), the No. 4 team in AA, lost for the fourth time in five games - the setbacks coming by a total of just eight points.The Dots rallied from an early eight-point deficit Friday with a 10-0 second-quarter run and the game swayed back and forth, with nine ties and 10 lead changes despite the low scoring.George took it upon himself to give Catholic the lead for good with back-to-back inspired goals to start the fourth quarter. The first came on an off-balance flip with his back to the basket (a la vintage Michael Jordan) and the second was a get-out-of-my-way charge to the basket for a scoop shot and a 34-32 lead."I was just upset at myself and determined to make those,'' George said, "because I had missed three easy ones right before that. In a close game, especially low-scoring like it was, each possession and each bucket counts.''Casto and George worked a perfect pick-and-roll for a goal (with Casto cashing in) right before McCarty went to the floor in a heap with 2:32 left and the Irish ahead 36-32.Every time Catholic got the ball after that, it tried to spread the floor and milk the clock without its top ball-handler. Making it even more interesting was the fact that Poca wasn't whistled for its second team foul until only 1:22 remained and had free reign to attack the Irish dribblers.Poca's Cameron Cottrill (12 points) shaved the deficit back to 36-35 on a leaning three-point play with 32 seconds to go before Casto answered with his two foul shots to bump the lead back to three.Matt Chandler took a feed from Hayden Bailey and made a layup for the Dots with 7.4 seconds left and they called a timeout, down 38-37. George was fouled and missed the front end of a 1-and-1, giving Poca one final chance.
The Dots got the ball to Adam Sigman, who brought it down the right side of the floor as time dwindled. He waited for a teammate to come open, but found none, and missed a 15-footer at the buzzer."When Garret went out,'' said Irish coach Bill McClanahan, "I was really pleased with the way that David Godwin and Nick and Keifer [Hovorka] and Zach stepped up and took care of the ball and handled the ball and handled Poca's pressure. Because Poca had fouls to give and they were gonna come at you hard anyway, and with fouls to give meant they could come at you twice as hard."I thought we wouldn't have made those same decisions a month ago with that same group on the floor. So that's a positive to take with us getting ready for the tournament. It's a good growing process for the guys who stayed on the floor, and it also lets Garret know he can trust his teammates. He has a huge role on this basketball team, but he's got guys he can trust and play with.''McCarty added 10 points for the Irish, who led 23-20 in rebounding. Hovorka led the team with three steals - each leading to a transition basket at the other end.Noah Frampton headed Poca's offense with 14 points and grabbed a team-high seven rebounds. Chandler added nine points and six boards.Dots coach Allen Osborne doesn't think his team's recent losing spell will curb momentum heading into sectional play.
"We're four possessions from winning those four games,'' Osborne said. "It's just how you handle it. We're not going to let that put us down. We're going to try and get better and learn from those things."We had a chance at the buzzer tonight. We did a lot of right things. We fouled the right people, put them on the 1-and-1 and had a chance to win. That's all you can ask for.''Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.