BUFFALO, W.Va. - In Chelsey Parkins, Buffalo has one of the premier post players in Class A.While she was able to control the paint again on Thursday night, the smallest players on the floor made getting the ball to her a chore unto itself.Charleston Catholic's pressure defense forced 30 Bison turnovers, and thanks to clutch free-throw shooting from Anna Whelan and a big night from Vida Imani, the No. 8 Irish overcame a late Buffalo rally to score a 58-51 win on the road.That swarming defense is led by a trio of theft-minded guards in Whelan (5-foot-5), Caroline Dundervill (5-3), and Peyton Mullen (5-4), who make getting the ball to halfcourt no small task."They're just so fast and they affect the game," Catholic coach Zack Bogan said. "When you come out and see us warm up, you're like 'Wow, these girls are tiny.' You look at our starting five and we're not very big, but they affect the game so much because they're so fast, they love to defend, they love to get out and run and they have very active hands."They really embrace it that that's their role - to defend and wreak havoc on the other team. That's what we rely on them to do."After Catholic (8-2) opened up a 37-24 lead in the third quarter, Buffalo (8-5) responded with a 13-0 run to tie it at 37 early in the fourth. After the teams traded buckets twice, Catholic's Hanna Gallian hit two straight shots followed by two straight buckets for Imani to push the Irish lead back to 49-41.The Bison's answer all night was Parkins but over that stretch, Catholic's defense, behind its guards, started to clamp down as Buffalo bogged down. Parkins rolled up 29 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks by the end, but it wasn't enough."We just got tired," Buffalo coach Jamie Ball said. "We've practiced three times, maybe twice in the last month. We just haven't been in the gym at all. You could see the life just get sucked out of us in the fourth quarter."
Whelan said that tiring out other teams has become a staple of the Irish this year."As most people can see, we are not the tallest team by any means, but we utilize our skills," Whelan said. "We're really a fast team all around with Caroline and Peyton especially, so we work to our advantage when we press the whole game and get teams tired."Imani, Gallian and Whelan combined to score all 21 of Catholic's fourth-quarter points, with Whelan going 6 for 6 from the line to complete the Irish scoring. Despite the late surge, it had been a bit of an off night for Catholic's senior point guard as Whelan went just 4 of 21 from the field, including 1 for 11 from 3-point range.But while she may have struggled with her shot she was still a factor, piling up seven assists and five steals to go with 15 points."It wasn't that frustrating for me because all of my players are right behind me," Whelan said. "Maddie [Blaydes] came in with some great shots off the bench in the beginning and Vida was just doing great throughout the game and so was everyone else. I was just trying to pass the ball more because my shots weren't falling."Imani's shots were falling as the freshman continued a solid campaign with 16 points on 7 of 10 shooting to go with six rebounds. Gallian finished with 10 while Blaydes had all seven of her points in the first half to keep the Irish afloat.
"They stepped up, they fought, and winning on the road is never easy and it's always nice to come out of a tough environment against a good team with a win," Bogan said.Katie Allen scored nine points for Buffalo.Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him at twitter.com/RPritt.