CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It's been a trying season for Charleston Catholic.The Fighting Irish, who have qualified for eight straight state tournaments, haven't been ranked most of the season and even if they win out, they won't finish with a winning record.In spite of all that, though, everything Catholic (9-15) set as a goal when the season started is still on the table as it travels to Williamstown (13-9) at 7 tonight in the Class A Region 4 co-final with a state berth on the line.In the other Region 4 co-final, No. 1 and four-time defending state champion St. Joseph (21-1) hosts No. 6 Parkersburg Catholic (15-7). The regional co-final winners advance to states, which will take place March 6-9 at the Charleston Civic Center.The Region 1 co-finals tonight feature St. Marys (22-1), which finished second in the final Associated Press poll, hosting Magnolia (11-12) and Trinity (13-10) visiting No. 3 Wheeling Central (20-4).In Region 2, No. 9 Tygarts Valley (16-7) visits No. 6 Pocahontas County (17-5) and No. 4 Tucker County (18-5) hosts Pendleton County (12-8). In Region 3, Man (14-10) plays at No. 8 Fayetteville (17-6) and Tug Valley (15-8) hosts Valley Fayette (12-7). (See Page 2B for pairings.)Charleston Catholic lost two starters before the year began to knee injuries, another key contributor to another knee injury and one player decided to leave the team a few weeks ago.Paul Sutherland, in his first year at Catholic, also had to sit out for two weeks to allow Catholic Principal Debra Sullivan to investigate possible Secondary School Activities Commission violations.
"Sometimes you get to thinking what else could happen?'' said Sutherland, who guided Winfield to a Class AA state championships in 2004 and 2006. "We had our best practice Saturday morning and it just pumped me up. Monday I have three girls and three crucial players that are sick."When you're going up against Williamstown they play in-your-face press and half-court man the whole game. That's what we have to do in practice. You're faced with how do we work with that kind of thing without going hard? [Our players have] handled it well. I haven't seen too much of a negative attitude. They've stepped up to the plate.''Charleston Catholic faced Williamstown in a scrimmage before the regular season, but has seen plenty of top-notch competition in squaring off with Class A No. 1 St. Joe, AAA No. 1 and defending state champion Greenbrier East, Parkersburg Catholic, Wheeling Central, Pocahontas County and Summers County twice each. Catholic actually faced St. Joe three times counting last week's sectional final."We've played against teams with pressure and we shouldn't be surprised,'' Sutherland said. "It's hard to relax even when you shoot. [Williamstown wants] everything rushed. They don't play it like a lot of people.''Charleston Catholic features a one-two outside scoring punch of senior guard Samantha Fletcher, the team's top scorer at 15.0 points per game, and junior point guard Anna Whelan (12.0). Catholic freshman guard Payton Mullen is a capable ball-handler and occasional scorer while 5-foot-7 senior post Simone Assaley and 5-10 junior center Christina O'Dell give the team an inside presence."We know how to handle pressure now better than we did,'' said Sutherland. "I don't think it's anything we can't handle. It's doable. We've become a better defensive team. If we can keep [Williamstown] in the 50s or 60s we should do OK.''Central scored a 59-44 win over Trinity during the regular season while Pocahontas edged Tygarts Valley 41-39. Tucker walloped Pendleton 60-26 and St. Joe blasted Parkersburg Catholic twice (62-29 and 73-48). Magnolia and St. Marys, Man and Fayetteville and Tug and Valley Fayette will be meeting for the first time this year.
Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at email@example.com or 304-348-4811.