CHARLESTON, W.Va. – No. 2 Wheeling Central secured a berth in the Class A girls basketball state championship game for the second time in four years, beating No. 3 Tucker County 63-46 on Friday.
Central Catholic’s current group of seniors were freshman back in 2015 when the Maroon Knights fell to St. Joe in the title game 40-37.
“Freshman year we lost by three and that feeling has never left me for the last three years,” said Central Catholic senior Taylor Duplaga. “Coming into my final year, my last chance to earn a state championship, I’m coming in with revenge. We’re going to come in and play hard – hopefully it comes out our way.”
The Maroon Knights (24-2) on Friday opened up a four-point advantage after the first quarter and led 32-22 at the half.
“Their strength is that they’re going to pound you inside,” said Central Catholic coach Penn Kurtz. “Our strength is getting the ball out and pushing it down the floor. When we could get out in transition and beat them down the floor, we were able to get some easy shots. We need to run.”
Riley Bennington led Central Catholic with 21 points, going 4 of 4 from 3 and providing an important spark to the Maroon Knights’ offense.
Overall Wheeling Central was 4 of 11 from 3.
“Eden (Gainer) was struggling tonight and they had a good game plan to take her out of the game,” Kurtz said. “Riley (Bennington) filled the void. I keep going back to having seniors. Last year we didn’t have seniors and we lost this game. I’ve been mad for a year, so now I can be happy.”
Tucker County was looking for its first return to the state championship game since 1998. The Mountain Lions overall have made 14 straight state tournament appearances.
“We were a little nervous to begin with and I did expect that,” said Tucker County coach Dave Helmick. “We played them pretty even in the first quarter, but the second quarter was a little disappointing.
“It was pretty even in the third and then we just ran out of gas in the fourth,” he continued. “We were down 17, cut it to seven and we just ran out of gas.”
Sydney Nestor led Tucker County(24-2) with 19 points in the loss.
Hannah White finished with a double-double, scoring 14 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Kaylee Reinbeau added 14 points in the win as well.
Wheeling Central was strong from the free throw line, going 21 of 26 overall.
The Maroon Knights move on to face either Huntington St. Joe or Summers County in the title game at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday.
“I think we’re healthy, which is a good sign because we haven’t been all year,” Kurtz said. “I have every confidence that they’re ready to meet the challenge tomorrow. We’re going to come in here planning to win the game.”
MetroNews will have a full HD-video broadcast of the game at the MetroNews Channel of WVMetroNews.com.