BUFFALO -- Charleston Catholic junior guard Claire Mullen stepped to the free-throw line and made both ends of a one-and-one with 3.5 seconds showing on the fourth-quarter clock.
The second of those shots put the Irish up by four points, and that was enough. Barely.
Buffalo’s Kaylee Bowling heaved a half-court shot at the buzzer that banked in, but it was one point too few as Catholic eked out a 34-33 win on the road in a battle between Class AA Region 4 Section 1 foes.
Mullen’s foul shots put to rest a back-and-forth, helter-skelter defensive affair and gave the Irish (4-2) an early leg up in the race for sectional seeding.
“You always want to win your section and regional games,” Catholic coach Wes Hevener said. “I think those hold the most importance.
“I thought early in the game we weren’t in help, we weren’t where we were supposed to be position-wise defensively and I just thought we played a little bit more sound on the defensive side, and then offensively I thought we played with a little bit more confidence on our shots and they just happened to fall.”
Indeed, early it was Buffalo (3-5) that seized control, leading 6-2 after a stingy opening quarter from both teams, and that advantage grew to six at 14-8 after a free throw from forward Lilly Wyant. However, the Bison’s top scorer, senior Abby Darnley, picked up her second foul with 6:35 left in the half, and with her stricken to the bench, Catholic finally got going.
A free throw each for Annie Cimino and Mullen kick-started a closing 8-0 run that put the Irish ahead 16-14 at the halftime break.
“It hurt when Abby went out of the game,” Buffalo coach Mike Kelly admitted. “She’s the go-to person. She’s the one they have to guard and they did a great job on her, they really did.”
To Kelly’s point, Catholic was able to limit Darnley to just seven points, but despite that, the Bison still had their chances.
The Irish seized their biggest lead of the game at seven (24-17) after an 8-0 burst midway through the third but the Bison scored the next six, with freshman Alivia Luikart sandwiching a pair of baskets around one for Darnley. That made the score 24-23 Catholic heading to the fourth period.
Cimino buried a 3 and it was backed up by a deuce from Chloe Clark, but Buffalo answered with a pair of free throws from Wyant, a bucket for Chloe Hale and a Darnley free throw to again cut the margin to one at 29-28.
Enter freshman Aurelia Kirby, who had attempted just one shot prior but calmly took a pass from Cimino and buried a 3-pointer with just 2:41 remaining to put Catholic up two possessions again at 32-30. Wyant hit a jumper with 44 seconds remaining to cut it to two and, after a stop, had a look at a tying shot but it rimmed out, leading to Mullen’s clinching free throws in the closing seconds.
Cimino finished with a career-high 19 points with Wyant registering a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. The teams combined for 48 turnovers, with Buffalo giving it away 25 times and Catholic committing 23 miscues.