Jayallen Turner was itching to take Charleston Catholic back to the boys basketball state tournament.
Turner stepped up and did exactly that on Tuesday at Charleston Catholic Athletic Facility as the junior turned in a game-high 26 points to lead the Irish to a 54-30 Class AA Region 4 co-final victory over Wirt County.
The Irish (20-5), who were denied a tournament berth by eventual 2022 Class AA champion Poca last season, are the No. 4 seed and will take on No. 5 South Harrison in the quarterfinal round of the Class AA tournament on March 15 at Charleston Coliseum & Convention Center. That game is scheduled for 9 p.m.
Turner was a freshman the last time the Irish made the state tournament and he said the opportunity to make it yet again motivated him to have a big game.
“I was just excited for the opportunity to go to the Civic Center,” Turner said postgame with a piece of the cut-down net on his ear. “I missed it last year and I didn’t want to have that same feeling. We can’t wait. That’s always been the main goal since Day One. I’m just really excited for the opportunity.”
The last time Catholic made a state tournament run, 2021 standout Aiden Satterfield was the leader for the Irish. Turner has had to step up as a leader and fill Satterfield’s shoes in the past years.
“This is probably the first year we made it where I was one of the leaders,” Turner said. “I had to play a bigger role this year and I’m glad it all paid off.”
Satterfield, who is listed as a redshirt freshman at Walsh University, was in attendance Tuesday night.
“Yeah, he was here and it was amazing,” Turner said of Satterfield’s presence. “I knew he was going to show up because he told me before, but it’s just great to see him here.”
The only time the game was close was when it was scoreless. Catholic jumped out to a quick 18-0 lead after the first quarter, led by 10 points from Turner.
Catholic went up 20-0 before Wirt County’s (16-9) Braylan Dawson gave the Tigers two points on two made free throws 10 minutes into the game.
Catholic coach Hunter Moles said his team set the tone early.
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“I was going to wait until the end of the game, but I had to tell the guys at halftime that we hadn’t held a team scoreless in a quarter all year,” Moles said. “To do that in a regional, that’s kind of what you want. You want to build up. We did that. We put in a really good performance in that first quarter and that set us up well for the entire game.”
Catholic’s defense allowed just nine field goals, six of which were made when the game was out of reach in the second half.
Catholic led by 26 when it took a 52-26 lead with 2:45 left in the fourth quarter.
Most of Catholic’s starters were pulled in the fourth quarter and Moles emptied his bench in the final minutes of the game.
Moles, like Turner, said last year’s disappointment fueled Catholic’s drive for a state tournament berth.
“What led up to it was all last year,” Moles said. “All last year, us not making the state tournament, that kind of fueled us. These guys really wanted to get back. What you do in the offseason shows in the season. We can probably still be better in the offseason, but we put a lot of work in.”
Turner, who was dealing with cramps at the end of the third quarter, didn’t play in the fourth.
“The things that he does is he guards the best player and he scores it and rebounds it,” Moles said. “What more can you ask for in a guy? His stats are unreal. He scores 26 and doesn’t even play the fourth quarter. He’s super-talented. [Wirt County’s] coach gave him a big compliment after the game too. He’s a fun guy to coach and he’s a good kid on and off the court.”
Catholic has a week to prepare for an unfamiliar opponent in South Harrison as the teams did not meet this season.
“We’ll take [Wednesday] off and try to get three good days of practice in,” Moles said. “We’ll try to revamp our fitness level and try to be in the best shape we can, but also be healthy. Our practice is really where we feel like we win games, so we’re going to have solid practice.”
Kelan Swan was the other Irish player in double figures with 10 points.
Connor Hoover tallied 12 points to lead the Tigers.