WILLIAMSTOWN, W.Va. - Charleston Catholic overcame many obstacles this season, but Williamstown was just one too many Thursday night.Five different players scored in double figures as the host Yellowjackets raced out to a 21-point lead behind a frenetic pressure defense after the opening quarter en route to a 63-38 victory over the Fighting Irish in the Class A Region 4 girls basketball co-final. A crowd of about 400 fans, mostly clad in Williamstown maroon, attended.The Yellowjackets (14-9) advance to next week's state tournament in Charleston. At one point this year Williamstown had a 7-8 record but has since won seven of its last eight."We're tickled to death to be back,'' said Williamstown coach Fred Sauro, who lost 2012 all-state player Liz Flowers to graduation. "Nobody gave us a lot of respect. What I love about our kids is they don't expect anybody to hand them anything. They earn it. They've been like sisters the whole way through some good times and bad times. They really persevered.''Catholic (9-16), which saw its string of eight straight state tournaments come to an end, lost two starters to knee injuries before the season began. The Irish then lost another top contributor to a knee injury and a player also decided to quit the team a several weeks ago.On top of that, Irish first-year coach Paul Sutherland was suspended for two weeks while Catholic Principal Debra Sullivan investigated possible Secondary School Activities Commission violations.Senior guard McKenzie Smith scored Williamstown's first nine points for a 9-2 lead. After Catholic pulled within five points (9-4) on junior center Christian O'Dell's layup, the Yellowjackets outscored the Irish 33-8 the rest of the first half for a commanding 42-14 edge at halftime."We thought getting off to a good start was going to be very crucial,'' said Sauro, who has guided his team to nine state tourney appearances since 1996 with a title in 2003. "We were staked to a big lead and that helped more than anything. We didn't want Charleston Catholic to get into their half-court sets. They're pretty good at it.''The Yellowjackets hit 11 of 16 shots in the first period but then cooled to 11 of 59 the rest of the way. Williamstown's pressure man-to-man defense forced the Irish into 27 turnovers, with 17 in the opening half, and came up with 16 steals.
"It was tough,'' said Catholic senior guard Samantha Fletcher, who netted a team-high 16 points. "We just had to move to get open. We tried our best. [Williamstown was] playing close-up defense and we're not used to that. We don't have enough players in practice to do that. We tried to simulate it, but it didn't work.''Smith finished with 12 points and five steals for Williamstown while senior guard Kathleen Cornell added 12 points, six rebounds and three steals and senior guard Brooke Cieslewski contributed 12 points. Yellowjackets senior guard Carley Ellison contributed 11 points, 11 boards and two blocks and senior forward Lauren Amos turned in 11 points and four rebounds. Williamstown senior guard Samantha Rea added 12 rebounds.Catholic tallied 12 straight points in the middle of the third quarter but it barely made a dent in the deficit as it shrank from 38 points to 26."When they took off the press we looked like a much better team,'' said Sutherland, who led Winfield to two state titles in AA and another runner-up finish. We're not developed enough yet to be able to handle that kind of pressure."Not every team can do that. [Williamstown has] eight or nine guards and they can run them in and out. We basically have three guards. So it's hard to keep the same intensity, but we tried hard.''Sutherland said he is optimistic about next year with Catherine Bandak, last year's top scorer and rebounder, Peri Bailey and Hannah Gallian returning from knee injuries along with junior point guard Anna Whelan, freshman guard Payton Mullen and O'Dell.
"We've got three or four real good middle-schoolers coming up so we'll be able to get back to a good style of getting up and down the court,'' Sutherland said. "Presses like [Williamstown's] won't bother us. In fact, we'll probably invite it.''Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at email@example.com or 304-348-4811.