By Steve Keenan
For The Register-Herald
Often, high school teams unaccustomed to the sometimes-daunting task of playing in the cavernous Charleston Civic Center Coliseum get that deer-in-the-headlights look.
Not so with the Valley Greyhounds in the first half of their Class A first-round girls state basketball tournament matchup with higher-seeded Wheeling Central.
It didn’t occur until the second half.
After trailing by four points early in the second period and leading by just two, 24-22, at halftime, No. 2 Wheeling Central responded in a huge way after the intermission to rout No. 7 Valley, 66-27, on Wednesday.
The Maroon Knights bucketed the first 18 points of the second half and blitzed the Greyhounds 42-5 in the final two quarters combined to cruise to the victory and advance to a 9:30 a.m. Friday semifinal date with No. 3 St. Marys, which whipped Tygarts Valley 52-24 in the first quarterfinal.
How lopsided was the second half? Wheeling Central scored more points in the opening 44 seconds (six) than Valley (five in the third and zero in the fourth) did in the entire half. By the time Valley coach Richie Cantrell called a timeout at the 5:26 mark of the third after Wheeling Central’s Colleen McCormick scored on an uncontested putback, the lead had mushroomed to 16, 38-22.
To sharply turn the tide, the Maroon Knights ratcheted up their pressure defense, caused 21 second-half Greyhound turnovers and limited Valley to 9.5 percent field goal shooting (2-of-21) in the span. For the game, the ‘Hounds shot just 22.0 percent (9-of-41) and committed 32 turnovers, while Central shot 40.3 percent (29-of-72) and turned the ball over only 11 times.
Wheeling Central coach Penn Kurtz explained he wanted his team to play up-tempo to wear Valley down, but the Knights “weren’t very successful” at that in the opening half.
“In the third quarter, we just came out with a lot of determination,” Kurtz said. “We played very hard, got a lot of easy shots and played good defense.”
The press, which the Knights used some in the first half, started clicking more when the team “got the right lineup in there,” said Kurtz, adding, “Our seniors did a great job of turning it around for us.”
One of those seniors, McCormick, admitted the first two quarters were “a little rough,” but she stressed, “We just needed to wake up. We were fine once we got our reality check.”
“We were right with it in the first half, but we kind of fell apart (in the second half) and our shots didn’t fall,” said Cantrell, Valley’s first-year head coach. “We did a great job, but our bench is not that deep. Obviously, the bigger court threw us off a lot.
“Give credit to them (Wheeling Central) ... and to these young ladies sitting right here (Alexis Payne, Abby Buchan and Gracyn Grubb accompanied him to the post-game press conference). I’m so proud of them.”
Wheeling Central (22-4) was led by McCormick’s 14-point, nine-rebound effort, while Emily Bucon contributed 14 points, eight steals and eight assists.
Valley (13-8) was led by Payne, the lone senior, who ended a stellar career by collecting 14 points and 12 rebounds. Buchan added seven points.
“I’m proud of my teammates and of myself,” said Payne, who left the contest for several minutes after taking a nasty spill on the Civic Center floor but returned in the game’s latter stages. “It felt really good in the first half.
“We just lost confidence, I think, and it started to go downhill for us.”
“The full-court pressure really played a role, even though eventually we knew they would press us,” added Buchan. “I thought we did a real good job (in the first half). I knew we could play with them.”
While the second half — and consequently the game — was decidedly in Central’s favor, Valley battled to a near-draw before halftime. The Greyhounds took their first lead, 11-10, on a three-point play in transition by Buchan with 2:21 left, and Payne later drilled a 3-point goal off a Buchan feed and scored two free throws off a drive to hand Valley an 18-14 spread at the 6:37 mark of the second.
Wheeling Central, however, utilized an 8-0 spurt to go ahead 22-18 and wound up leading 24-22 at the break, setting the stage for the second-half explosion.
— E-mail: skeenan
VALLEY FAYETTE (13-8)
Grubb 1-2 0-0 2, Bird 1-6 0-0 2, Taylor 0-0 2-2 2, Payne 4-13 5-8 14, Buchan 3-15 1-1 7, Pleva 0-2 0-0 0, Beard 0-0 0-0 0, Smallman 0-1 0-0 0, Lively 0-1 0-0 0, Green 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 9-41 8-11 27.
WHEELING CENTRAL (22-4)
Olson 3-6 0-0 6, McCormick 7-14 0-0 14, Basinger 0-4 3-4 3, Bucon 6-14 2-3 14, Stayduhar 1-1 0-0 3, Ryan 0-0 0-0 0, Stahl 0-2 0-0 0, Blaha 4-9 0-0 8, Calissie 0-1 0-0 0, Baker 2-6 0-0 4, Denniston 1-3 0-0 3, Bennington 5-8 0-0 10, Michaels 0-2 0-0 0, Cross 0-2 1-2 1. Totals 29-72 6-9 66.
Valley Fayette 11 11 5 0—27
Wheeling Central 12 12 26 16—66
3-Point Goals — Valley Fayette 1-10 (Payne 1-1, Pleva 0-1, Bird 0-4, Buchan 0-4), Wheeling Central 2-12 (Stayduhar 1-1, Denniston 1-2, Stahl 0-1, McCormick 0-2, Blaha 0-2, Bucon 0-4). Fouled Out — none. Rebounds — Valley Fayette 36 (Payne 12), Wheeling Central 42 (McCormick 9). Assists — Valley Fayette 4 (Buchan 3), Wheeling Central 19 (Bucon 8). Total Fouls — Valley Fayette 14, Wheeling Central 9. A—1,650 (early session).